China-linked hackers are breaking into American organizations carrying out research into COVID-19, U.S. officials said on Wednesday, warning both scientists and public health officials to be on the lookout for cyber theft.
In a joint statement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security said the FBI was investigating digital break-ins at U.S. organizations by China-linked “cyber actors” that it had monitored “attempting to identify and illicitly obtain valuable intellectual property (IP) and public health data related to vaccines, treatments, and testing from networks and personnel affiliated with COVID-19-related research.”
The statement offered no further details on the identities of the targets or the hackers.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment. China routinely denies longstanding American allegations of cyberespionage.
Coronavirus-related research and data have emerged as a key intelligence priority for hackers of all stripes. Last week Reuters reported that Iran-linked cyberspies had targeted staff at U.S. drugmaker Gilead Sciences Inc., whose antiviral drug remdesivir is the only treatment so far proven to help COVID-19 patients.
In March and April, Reuters reported on advanced hackers’ attempts to break into the World Health Organization as the pandemic spread across the globe.