April 26, 2020

COVID-19: Foreign hackers sabotage US coronavirus emergency response


AGENCIES | Washington (CNN) – The Trump administration is pointing the finger at China for attempting to steal coronavirus research as officials are warning they have seen a growing wave of cyberattacks on US government agencies and medical institutions leading the pandemic response by nation states and criminal groups.

Hospitals, research laboratories, health care providers and pharmaceutical companies have all been hit, officials say, and the Department of Health and Human Services – which oversees the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — has been struck by a surge of daily strikes, an official with direct knowledge of the attacks said.

“It is safe to say that there are only two places in the world that could hit (the Department of Health and Human Services) the way it’s been hit,” the official familiar with the attacks told CNN.


The primary culprits for the HHS attacks are Russia and China, the official said, because of the size and scope of the actions. After some hesitance to attribute the wide-ranging attacks across the medical sector to any specific countries — whether for political reasons or a lack of certainty — top national security officials have decided to single out China.

The Department of Justice now says they are particularly concerned about attacks by Chinese hackers targeting US hospitals and labs to steal research related to coronavirus.

Trump strikes friendly tone on China with trade in mind, as his top officials point fingers over pandemic

Trump strikes friendly tone on China with trade in mind, as his top officials point fingers over pandemic

“It’s certainly the logical conclusion of everything I’ve said,” John Demers, the head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said when asked specifically about China’s actions during an online discussion Thursday on Chinese economic espionage hosted by Strategic News Service.

“We are very attuned to increased cyber intrusions into medical centers, research centers, universities, anybody that is doing research in this area.

“There is nothing more valuable today than biomedical research relating to vaccines for treatments for the coronavirus,” Demers said.

“It’s of great importance not just from a commercial value but whatever countries, company or research lab develops that vaccine first and is able to produce it is going to have a significant geopolitical success story.”

Calling out China.

The Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, Bill Evanina, who has led the US intelligence community’s battle against Chinese industrial and academic spying and theft of intellectual property, has also warned that critical research for Covid-19 vaccines risks being stolen and replicated overseas.

“Medical research organizations and those who work for them should be vigilant against threat actors seeking to steal intellectual property or other sensitive data related to America’s response to the COVID19 pandemic,” Evanina told CNN.


Cyber espionage from China against the United States has spiked in the months since the outbreak of the virus. Last month, leading cybersecurity group FireEye reported that Chinese group APT41 has carried out “one of the broadest campaigns by a Chinese cyber espionage actor we have observed in recent years.”


On Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — who has been consistently attacking China over the pandemic — told Fox News, “The biggest threat isn’t our ability to work with China on cyber, it’s to make sure we have the resources available to protect ourselves from Chinese cyberattacks.”


CNN has asked the Chinese embassy in Washington for comment on the allegations.

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