China-backed hackers ‘targeted COVID-19 vaccine firm Moderna’

U.S. security official said this year Chinese government-linked hackers tried to steal data targeting Moderna Inc., a U.S.-based biotech company working on coronavirus vaccine research.

image by Retha Ferguson (made available under the Creative Commonsย CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication)

Last week, the U.S. Justice Department reported that two Chinese nationals accused of spying United States targeted three unnamed U.S.-based coronavirus research actors.

The indictment said the Chinese hackers “conducted reconnaissance” against the network of a Massachusetts biotech firm working on a coronavirus vaccine in January.

Massachusetts-based Moderna, candidating its COVID-19 vaccine in January, confirmed to Reuters to have been in contact with the FBI and informed of the suspected โ€œinformation reconnaissance activitiesโ€ by the hacking group mentioned in last weekโ€™s indictment.

Cybersecurity experts says reconnaissance activities can include looking for vulnerabilities in public websites or for important accounts after entering a network.

The FBI and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services refused to share the name of the other companies targeted by Chinese hackers.

The July 7 indictment states that the two Chinese hackers, Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi, conducted a 10 years hacking campaign that recently involved COVID-19 medical research groups as targets.

Prosecutors said that the two worked as Chinese Ministry of State Security contractors. Messages left for Liโ€™s digital alias, oro0lxy, were not returned, while contact details for Dong were not available.

China denied any role in the hacking and its foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing, Wang Wenbin, remarked the accusation as “baseless”.

The two other targeted companies are described in the Justice Department indictment as biotech companies based in California and Maryland.

The court documents indicated the California firm working on antiviral drug research and suggests that the Maryland company publicly announced to develop a vaccine in January. Two companies matching the description could be: Gilead Sciences Inc and Novavax Inc.

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