The US Says Chinese Hackers Went Too Far During the Covid-19 Crisis

esearcher working in lab - Photograph: Misha Friedman/Getty Images

The US Says Chinese Hackers Went Too Far During the Covid-19 Crisis
WIRED, May 14, 2020
By Lily Hay Newman

“The FBI and DHS say that Beijing’s hacking “jeopardizes” the delivery of much-needed Covid-19 treatment options.”


It’s no secret that the Covid-19 pandemic has created prime conditions for nation-state hacking. Working from home often means less-strict security, which in turn invites digital espionage. But on Wednesday, the United States called out China-backed hackers specifically, accusing them of not just spying but endangering Covid-19 vaccine research.


As the world rushes to contain the pandemic and find a vaccine, researchers and government officials have increasingly warned about a rise in cyberattacks, including among those likely linked to intelligence-gathering. The latter have especially targeted public health institutions like the World Health Organization.


The race to develop a vaccine is particularly high stakes. While many countries claim they’re willing to collaborate internationally throughout the process, it’s unsurprising that some nations would turn to espionage to fill the gaps and suss out what researchers might be holding back. But if these operations disrupt or damage vaccine development, they could violate the norms surrounding espionage. A joint statement by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency accuses China of doing exactly that.


“These actors have been observed attempting to identify and illicitly obtain valuable intellectual property and public health data related to vaccines, treatments, and testing from networks and personnel affiliated with Covid-19-related research,” the joint announcement says. “The potential theft of this information jeopardizes the delivery of secure, effective, and efficient treatment options.”

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About the Author:

Lily Hay Newman is a senior writer at WIRED focused on information security, digital privacy, and hacking. She previously worked as a technology reporter at Slate magazine and was the staff writer for Future Tense, a publication and project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State University. Additionally her work has appeared in Gizmodo, Fast Company, IEEE Spectrum, and Popular Mechanics. She lives in New York City.

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