UK accuses Russia of hacking into organisations doing Covid-19 vaccine research
There have been reports from countries like the US, UK and Canada of a hacking group called APT29 targeting various organisations involved in Covid-19 vaccine development.
The UK's National Cyber Security Centre has claimed that the group accused of stealing information may be part of the Russian intelligence services.
Dr Jack Watling from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), says that there is some credibility to these accusations.
There was a clear motive, in that the coronavirus pandemic is a critical threat to many countries. Gaining intelligence about possible vaccines, cures, medical treatments is critical and so for those countries that aren't cooperating with international partners in developing those cures, espionage or stealing intellectual property to find out how you might cure or create a vaccine is a critical priority.Dr Jack Watling, Royal United Services Institute
Russia is currently not currently in the best of relations with those countries that are leading in that research. So this is one means in which they would seek to cover that gap.Dr Jack Watling, Royal United Services Institute
Dr Watling says that while they are certain the Russian are involved in hacking these organisation, the way in which they hack is problematic. He says that most countries have people who engage in hacking. If they are found out they are charged or warned off. Often they are juvenile and so not put in prison, but they are clamped down on.
In Russia it is different. The Intelligence services show up and say: 'Look, so long as you don't target this list of places, then we will let you continue and keep the proceeds from what you are doing. If you target successfully and break into this list, which is our priority, then we will reward you.'Dr Jack Watling, Royal United Services Institute
These individuals are criminal actors, often engaging independently.Dr Jack Watling, Royal United Services Institute
According to Watling, these independent hackers receive support from Russian intelligence agencies. With a number of them hacking into specific institutions over time, it is possible to determine which individuals are working on behalf of Russia.
Attribution is quite difficult because the line between criminal activity and state espionage in Russia is very blurred. But over time you can establish a clearer picture with more confidence that these individuals, using these toolkits are working with Russian Intelligence.Dr Jack Watling, Royal United Services Institute
Despite the accusations of hacking, organisations have stated that nothing has been stolen yet. Watling says the Russian backing operates on a mass level, so there are few successes and lots of failures. Therefore it may take time to realise that a particular hack was successful.
He adds that this type of work is a slow process and the Russian have not been at it for long.
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