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Exclusive: hackers supported by Chinese vaccine-targeted COVID-19 Moderna



WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Hackers linked to the Chinese government targeting biotechnology company Moderna Inc (MRNA.O), a leading developer of research on the coronavirus vaccine in the United States, earlier this year, trying to steal valuable data, said a US security official who monitors the activities of Chinese hackers.

PHOTO FILE: A woman is holding a small bottle with the words “COVID-19 Vaccine” and a medical syringe in this illustration, made on April 10, 2020. REUTERS / Dado Ruvich / Illustration / File Photo

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice released charges against two Chinese nationals accused of spying for the United States, including three unnamed U.S.-based targets involved in medical research to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The indictment alleges that Chinese hackers “conducted reconnaissance” against the computer network of the biotechnology company Massachusetts, which is known to have worked on the coronavirus vaccine in January.

The Massachusetts-based modern, which announced its candidate for the COVID-19 vaccine in January, confirmed to Reuters that the company had contacted the FBI and was known for suspected “intelligence” activities by a hacker group mentioned in a weekly indictment. act.

Cybersecurity experts can include a wide range of actions, including checking public websites for vulnerabilities to intelligence of important accounts after logging on to the network.

“Modern remains very vigilant about potential cybersecurity threats, supporting an internal team, external support services, and good working relationships with outside agencies to continually assess threats and protect our valuable information,” said spokesman Ray Jordan, declining to provide further information.

A U.S. security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not provide further details. The FBI and the US Department of Health and Human Services have refused to disclose the identity of companies targeting Chinese hackers.

The Modern vaccine candidate is one of the earliest and largest rates of the Trump administration to fight the pandemic. The federal government is supporting the company’s development of nearly half a billion dollars in vaccines and is helping Modern launch a clinical trial of 30,000 people starting this month.

China is also vying to develop a vaccine, bringing together its public, military and private sectors to fight the disease, which has killed more than 660,000 people worldwide.

The July 7 indictment, released last week, alleges that two Chinese hackers, Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiaji, spent a decade of hacking, which recently included targeting COVID-19 medical research teams.

Prosecutors said Li and Dong were contractors for China’s Ministry of State Security, a state intelligence agency. Messages left with multiple accounts registered under the digital alias Li, oro0lxy, were not returned. Contact details for Dong were not available.

The Chinese embassy in Washington quoted Reuters as saying in a recent Chinese Foreign Ministry comment that “China has long been a major victim of cyber theft and attacks,” and its officials “strongly oppose and fight” such activities. The Chinese government has consistently denied any role in hacking incidents around the world. The embassy spokesman did not address specific questions sent by e-mail.

Two other unnamed medical research companies mentioned in the Justice Department’s indictment are described as biotechnology companies based in California and Maryland. Prosecutors said the hackers were “looking for vulnerabilities” and “conducting intelligence” against them.

The lawsuit described the California firm as working on antiviral research and suggested that Maryland had publicly announced efforts to develop a vaccine in January. Two companies that could fit these descriptions: Gilead Sciences Inc (GILD.O) and Novavax Inc (NVAX.O).

Gilead spokesman Chris Ridley said the firm was not commenting on cybersecurity. Novavax did not comment on specific cybersecurity measures, but said: “Our cybersecurity team has received a warning about possible threats identified in the news.”

A security consultant familiar with numerous hacking investigations involving leading biotechnology firms over the past year said that Chinese hacking groups, which are believed to be widely linked to China’s Ministry of State Security, are one of the main research forces. COVID-19 worldwide. This is consistent with the description of the accused hackers as MSS contractors.

Reports by Christopher Bing and Marisa Taylor; Editing: Chris Sanders and Lisa Schumker

Our standards:Principles of trust Thomson Reuters.

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