Are China-linked hackers trying to steal coronavirus vaccine data from US? FBI launches probe

The FBI has urged medical staff and researchers in the United States to be vigilant and immediately report suspicious cyber activity

The United States on Wednesday accused hackers linked to the Chinese government for attempting to break into US organizations researching into a coronavirus vaccine. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has alerted both health officials and researchers and has warned them to be on the lookout for cyber theft.

The accusations come at a time when the relationship between the United States and China has once again getting soured due to the coronavirus outbreak that has not only taken lives of millions across the globe but also has left the global economy battered and bruised. This is the latest in a range of accusations made by the United States on China in recent weeks following the coronavirus outbreak.

FBI launches investigation

Federal Bureau of Investigation
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) YouTube Grab

The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI on Wednesday accused hackers linked to China as well as spies of trying to steal intellectual property and other information related to coronavirus treatments. In a joint statement, FBI and the Department of Homeland Security said that the FBI has launched an investigation into digital break-ins at US organizations by China-linked hackers.

"The FBI is investigating the targeting and compromise of U.S. organizations conducting COVID-19-related research by [People's Republic of China]-affiliated cyber actors and non-traditional collectors," reads the statement. The FBI has accused that such theft of information could jeopardize the delivery of secure, effective, and efficient treatment options for Covid-19.

The FBI said that it has monitored suspicious activity of attempts to identify and "illicitly obtain valuable intellectual property (IP) and public health data related to vaccines, treatments, and testing from networks and personnel affiliated with COVID-19-related research." The FBI has urged medical staff and researchers to be vigilant and report suspicious cyber activity.

China continues to draw US' ire

cyber attack
Cyber security Pixabay

The FBI, however, hasn't specified further on the identities of the hackers. The Chinese Embassy in Washington is yet to comment on the allegations. Coronavirus-related research and data has become a key target of hackers across the world. Organizations in the United States have reportedly been targeted by hackers in recent times who have attempted to steal data related to coronavirus research and treatment.

The fresh allegations by United States add to a slew of charges made against China for allegedly stealing billions of dollars in US intellectual property. China however, has time and again denied all such allegations. The Donald Trump administration has earlier accused Beijing of misleading the world about the severity of coronavirus. So much so, that the White House also labeled the illness the "Chinese virus".

While biotech companies and drugmakers are speeding up development of a coronavirus vaccine, data related to the treatment and research has become the target of hackers linked with multiple government organizations. However, Wednesday's advisory pointed fingers at China for the first time, as US officials so far had avoided naming suspects.

Related topics : Coronavirus