US authorities have accused Chinese hackers on Wednesday of carrying out cyberattacks against US research centers to steal information about the vaccines and treatments being tested against COVID-19.
This has been denounced by the FBI and the Government Agency for Cybersecurity and Infrastructure (CISA), under the Department of Homeland Security, in a statement, with which they seek to “raise awareness of the threat to the investigation related to COVID-19”
The FBI is currently conducting investigations into alleged cyber attacks by Chinese hackers on organizations in the United States that are conducting investigations into the new coronavirus.
“It has been observed that these actors (hackers) are illicitly trying to identify and obtain valuable intellectual property and public health data related to vaccines, treatments and tests from networks and personnel affiliated with COVID-19 related research,” indicates the note.
A safe treatment against COVID-19, in danger
The FBI and CISA have warned that theft of this type of information would jeopardize the goal of achieving a “safe, effective and efficient” treatment for COVID-19.
For this reason, they have urged research centers to reinforce their cybersecurity to avoid thefts and to solve any gap in their computer systems. They have also advised to avoid any media attention to avoid “increased interest and cyber activity” by pirates.
The US authorities have launched these accusations against the Asian giant without providing any supporting evidence. An official consulted by the CNN television network has specified that some of the institutions and research organizations allegedly targets of Chinese cyberattacks have been hospitals, laboratories and pharmaceutical companies.
The hack has also affected the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and which has seen increased attempts at daily cyberattacks, according to the source.
Coronavirus fuels cyber attacks
In recent months, cyber attacks have increased as a consequence of the coronavirus crisis. On April 22, the US Department of Justice reported that the FBI had received more than 3,600 complaints related to computer crimes related to COVID-19, many of them perpetrated through websites that advertised vaccines and false cures.
As a consequence of the health crisis, the tension between Washington and Beijing has also increased, as the US government feeds the hypothesis of China’s responsibility in the spread of the pandemic for allegedly “hiding” information about the “severity” of the coronavirus, by that President Donald Trump refers to as the “Chinese virus”.
In addition, from the White House they defend the hypothesis, rejected by much of the scientific community and the World Health Organization (WHO) – which attributes the pathogen to an “animal origin” -, that the coronavirus was generated in a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the initial focus of the pandemic.
A warning that is not a mere warning
According to The New York Times, which quotes officials and former officials of the US Administration, the decision to make these accusations of cyber attacks public is part of a broad deterrence strategy, designed by the US Cyber Command, which reports to the Department of Defense, and the National Security Agency.
Under the legal authority that Trump granted them almost two years ago, both agencies have the power to infiltrate Chinese networks to orchestrate response cyberattacks, although it is currently unknown whether any have finally been carried out.
This new episode of the ‘Cold War’ between Washington and Beijing comes when the United States is the current epicenter of the pandemic, leading the world in both the number of infections and the number of deaths, with 1,430,465 confirmed cases and 85,197 deaths due to COVID-19.
In this situation, the director of the Science and Technological Innovation Program of the Wilson Center ideas laboratory, Meg King, has highlighted the importance of “health technology tools”, keys to ending the pandemic, but which can also serve to bring cyber attacks.
And he has considered that this type of information can be used to achieve geopolitical advantages or financial gains, making the announcement on Wednesday in the United States “crucial”: “Just as the medical community protects patient data, advances they must also be safeguarded in research. “