Washington: It couldn’t have got murkier than these. The United States has alleged that Chinese government-linked hackers have targetted biotech company Moderna Inc. This leading US-based company is close to finding a vaccine for coronavirus. The US has alleged that hackers made a bit to steal valuable data regarding the vaccine.
Last week, the Justice Department made public an indictment of two Chinese nationals accused of spying on the United States. They were spying on three unnamed US-based targets involved in medical research to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The indictment states the Chinese hackers ‘conducted reconnaissance’ against the computer network of a Massachusetts biotech firm. This firm is known to be working on a coronavirus vaccine since January.
Moderna is based in Massachusetts. It announced its COVID-19 vaccine candidate in January. The company said that it had been in contact with the FBI since January. Moderna also said it was made aware of the suspected ‘information reconnaissance activities’ by the hacking group mentioned in last week’s indictment.
Reconnaissance activities can include a wide range of actions. Among them are probing public websites for vulnerabilities to scouting out important accounts after entering a network, cybersecurity experts say.
“Moderna remains highly vigilant to potential cybersecurity threat. It has an internal team, external support services and good working relationships with outside authorities. This helps Moderna to continuously assess threats and protect our valuable information,” the company’s spokesman Ray Jordan said Thursday.
The US security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not provide further details. The FBI and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declined to disclose the identities of companies targetted by Chinese hackers.
Moderna’s vaccine candidate is one of the earliest and biggest bets by the Donald Trump administration to fight the pandemic. The federal government is supporting development of the vaccine with nearly half a billion dollars. It is helping Moderna launch a clinical trial of up to 30,000 people beginning this month.
China is also racing to develop a vaccine, bringing together its state, military and private sectors to combat a disease that has killed over 660,000 people worldwide.
A July 7 indictment released last week alleges that the two Chinese hackers, Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi, conducted a decade-long hacking spree. Most recently they included the targetting of COVID-19 medical research groups.
Prosecutors said Li and Dong acted as contractors for China’s Ministry of State Security, a state intelligence agency. However, the Chinese government has consistently denied any role in hacking incidents.
The two other unnamed medical research companies mentioned in the Justice Department indictment are described as biotech companies. They are based in California and Maryland. Prosecutors said the hackers ‘searched for vulnerabilities’ and ‘conducted reconnaissance’ against them.
The court filing describes the California firm as working on antiviral drug research. It suggested the Maryland company had publicly announced efforts to develop a vaccine in January. Two companies that could match those descriptions: Gilead Sciences Inc and Novavax Inc .