UK Says Russian Hackers Target Coronavirus Vaccine Trials

Russian President Vladimir Putin leads a cabinet meeting via video conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Thursday, July 16, 2020. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo)

LONDON (TASS) — The UK National Cyber Security Center maintains that Russian cyber actors are making attempts to steal information relating to the development of vaccines to fight the novel coronavirus.

“Throughout 2020, APT29 [hacking group] has targeted various organisations involved in COVID-19 vaccine development in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, highly likely with the intention of stealing information and intellectual property relating to the development and testing of COVID-19 vaccines,” NCSC said in a document released on Thursday.

“The NCSC assesses that APT29, also named “the Dukes” or “Cozy Bear” almost certainly operate as part of Russian intelligence services, the report said. “APT29’s campaign of malicious activity is ongoing, predominantly against government, diplomatic, think-tank, healthcare and energy targets to steal valuable intellectual property, it said.

“APT29 is likely to continue to target organisations involved in COVID-19 vaccine research and development,” it warned, urging them to take active active measures to detect the activity.

“The group uses a variety of tools and techniques, including spear-phishing and custom malware known as “WellMess” and “WellMail,” NCSC said.

In comments on the report, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called ‘unacceptable’ the alleged activity of Russian intelligence services.

“It is completely unacceptable that the Russian Intelligence Services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic,” the foreign secretary said.

“The UK will continue to counter those conducting such cyber attacks, and work with our allies to hold perpetrators to account,” he pledged. “While others pursue their selfish interests with reckless behaviour, the UK and its allies are getting on with the hard work of finding a vaccine and protecting global health,” Raab said.

Russia may be 1st to finish vaccine trials

The final, phase 3, trials of a Russian vaccine against coronavirus developed by the Gamalei National Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology may be completed quicker than in other countries, the head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, Kirill Dmitriev, told the Vesti news program on Rossiya-1television on Thursday.

“This is the final phase that is necessary to put the vaccine into active use. And we believe that Russia will possibly go through this phase quicker than other countries,” Dmitriev said.

He noted that phase 3 trials implied switching over to large-scale human trials. Human trials will involve thousands of people in Moscow, “and we will also start conducting phase 3 in other countries,” the head of the Direct Investment Fund said.

Phase 2 trials of this vaccine will be completed on August 3, Dmitriev said on Thursday. According to him, regulatory approval of the Russian vaccine for the use is expected in August-September.

According to forecasts from the Direct Investment Fund, 30 million doses of the vaccine will be produced in Russia in 2020, or even 50 million if necessary. The vaccination of Russian nationals may be completed early in 2021.

In late December 2019, Chinese officials notified the World Health Organization (WHO) about the outbreak of a previously unknown pneumonia in the city of Wuhan, in central China. Since then, cases of the novel coronavirus — named COVID-19 by the WHO — have been reported in every corner of the globe, including Russia.

On March 11, 2020, the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. According to the latest statistics, over 13,717,900 people have been infected worldwide and more than 587,000 deaths have been reported. In addition, so far, over 8,172,400 individuals have recovered from the illness across the globe.

To date, 752,797 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Russia, with 531,692 patients having recovered from the disease. Russia’s latest data indicates 11,937 fatalities nationwide.