WASHINGTON – Chinese government-linked hackers targeted the biotech company Moderna Inc., a leading U.S.-based research developer of coronavirus vaccines, earlier this year in an attempt to steal valuable data, according to a U.S. official. security that tracks the activity of Chinese hackers.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice released an indictment of two Chinese nationals accused of spying in 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 “made the discovery” against the computer network of a Massachusetts biotech firm known to work on a coronavirus vaccine in January.
Moderna, which is based in Massachusetts and announced its candidate for the COVID-19 vaccine in January, confirmed to Reuters that the company had been in contact with the FBI and had become aware of the group’s suspected “intelligence activities”. of hackers mentioned in the past indictment of the week.
Reconstruction activities can involve a wide range of actions, including examining websites for vulnerabilities in detecting significant accounts after logging in to a network, say internet security experts.
“Modern remains highly vigilant against potential cyber security threats, maintaining an internal team, external support services and good working relationships with external authorities to continually assess threats and protect our valuable information,” he said. spokesman Ray Jordan declined to give further details.
The US security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, gave no further details. The FBI and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declined to reveal the identities of companies targeted by Chinese hackers.
The Moderna vaccine candidate is one of the earliest and biggest bets by the Trump administration to fight the pandemic. The federal government is supporting the company’s vaccine development with nearly half a billion dollars and helping Moderna launch a clinical trial of up to 30,000 people starting this month.
China is also competing to develop a vaccine, joining its state, military and private sectors to fight a disease that has killed over 660,000 people worldwide.
A July 7 indictment released last week alleges that two Chinese hackers, Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi, carried out a decade-long revenge spree that most recently targeted COVID-19 medical research groups.
Prosecutors said Li and Dong acted as contractors for China’s Ministry of State Security, a state-owned intelligence agency. Messages left with multiple accounts registered under Li’s digital information, oro0lxy, were not returned. Contact details for Dong were not available.
The Chinese embassy in Washington referred to Reuters in recent comments by the Chinese Foreign Ministry that said: “China has long been a major victim of theft and cyber attacks” and its officials “strongly oppose and combat” such activities. The Chinese government has consistently denied any role in hacking incidents across the globe. The embassy spokesman did not address specific questions emailed.
The other two unnamed medical research companies mentioned in the Department of Justice indictment are described as biotech companies based in California and Maryland. Prosecutors said the hackers “searched for vulnerabilities” and “carried out intelligence” against them.
The lawsuit describes the California firm as working on antiviral drug research and suggested the Maryland company had publicly announced efforts to develop a vaccine in January. Two companies that can match those descriptions: Gilead Sciences Inc and Novavax Inc.
Gilead spokesman Chris Ridley said the firm does not comment on Internet security issues. Novavax will not comment on specific cyber security activities but said: “Our cyber security team has been alerted to alleged foreign threats identified in the news.”
A security consultant familiar with the numerous hacking investigations involving the biotech prime minister’s firms over the past year said Chinese hacker groups believed to be widely linked to China’s Ministry of State Security are one of the main forces targeting the investigation. COVID-19, globally. This is consistent with the description of the sued hackers as MSS contractors.