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Hackers linked to the Russian intelligence services tried to access UK coronavirus vaccine research, the British government has said.
Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said the actions of the Russian spy agencies was “completely unacceptable”.
The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) revealed on Thursday the group know as APT29 had targeted UK, US and Canadian vaccine research and development organisations.
It said the hackers “almost certainly operate as part of Russian Intelligence Services”.
NCSC director of operations, Paul Chichester, said: “We condemn these despicable attacks against those doing vital work to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
“Working with our allies, the NCSC is committed to protecting our most critical assets and our top priority at this time is to protect the health sector.
“We would urge organisations to familiarise themselves with the advice we have published to help defend their networks.”
Raab added: “It is completely unacceptable that the Russian Intelligence Services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
“While others pursue their selfish interests with reckless behaviour, the UK and its allies are getting on with the hard work of finding a vaccine and protecting global health.
“The UK will continue to counter those conducting such cyber attacks, and work with our allies to hold perpetrators to account.”
The NCSC said the group’s campaign of “malicious activity” was aimed predominantly at government, diplomatic, think-tank, healthcare and energy targets in an attempt to steal valuable intellectual property.
It has previously warned that APT (standing for advanced persistent threat) groups have been targeting organisations involved in both national and international Covid-19 research.
APT29 is said to use a variety of tools and techniques, including spear-phishing and custom malware known as “WellMess” and “WellMail”.
The announcement came shortly after the British government revealed it believed “Russian agents” tried to influence the 2019 general election by promoting a leaked paper on the UK-US trade negotiations.
The Commons Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) also announced today it will next week publish its report into Russian interference in the election.