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US, Britain, Canada Accuse Russia of Hacking Coronavirus Research

FILE - A subject receives a shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine by Moderna for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle.
US, Britain, Canada Accuse Russia of Hacking Coronavirus Research
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The United States, Britain and Canada have accused Russia of trying to steal Western research into coronavirus vaccines and treatments.

In a joint statement, the three governments said Thursday the hacking operation started in February and has continued since. They identified the Russian hacking group APT29, also known as Cozy Bear, as being behind the attacks.

Anne Neuberger is cybersecurity director at the U.S. National Security Agency. She said, “APT29 has a long history of targeting governmental, diplomatic, think tank, health care and energy organizations for intelligence gain, so we encourage everyone to take this threat seriously.”

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab added, “It is completely unacceptable that the Russian Intelligence Services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic.″

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, rejected the accusation, saying: “Russia has nothing to do with those attempts.” He added, “We don’t have information about who may have hacked pharmaceutical companies and research centers in Britain.”

Cozy Bear and another group called Fancy Bear were accused by U.S. intelligence officials of hacking into the U.S. Democratic Party email server. Russia denied any involvement in the incident, which took place during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The three Western allies first warned in May that state-backed hackers were trying to steal coronavirus research. But at the time, they did not identify who was behind the attack.

The announcement came from Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre, the Canadian Communication Security Establishment, and the National Security Agency. The coordinated move seemed designed to add more weight and gravity to the accusation – hopefully leading targets of the hackers to take protective action.

As COVID-19 spreads to more than 180 countries and territories, efforts to create an effective vaccine and treatment have expanded worldwide. Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center estimates that, as of July 16, COVID-19 has infected more than 13 million people and killed 580,000.

The World Health Organization has listed several human trials in Britain and the United States among the most promising candidates to produce an effective vaccine. These include major development programs by the companies AstraZeneca and Moderna.

Russian officials, however, have said the country’s own vaccine is far more developed. Russia has claimed it could be the first country to start giving vaccines to people.

U.S. officials have also accused China of trying to steal vaccine research. Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Chris Wray said last week, “At this very moment, China is working to compromise American health care organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and academic institutions conducting essential COVID-19 research.”

Mike Chapple is an information technology expert at the University of Notre Dame. He said, “It’s reasonable to conclude that the coronavirus is the No. 1 priority of every intelligence agency around the world right now.″

I'm Jonathan Evans.

Hai Do adapted this story for Learning English based on VOA News and Associated Press news reports. Bryan Lynn was the editor.


Words in This Story

hack – v. to secretly get access to files on a computer and a network to get information

encourage v. to advise someone more likely to do something

combat – v. to fight against (someone)

pandemic – n. an occurrence in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people

compromise v. to damage by doing something to cause the desired effect

essential – adj. extremely important

priority n. something that is more important than other things and that needs to be done first