Things You Should Know But Don’t: Cyberattacks on COVID-19 Vaccine

Posted July 31, 2020

It should be no surprise to anyone that there are people putting in countless hours developing a vaccine for the globally-feared COVID-19. Labs are dedicating time and manpower, and working around the clock to try and rid the population of this virus. The United States has named the initiative “Operation Warp Speed” to reflect the commitment. It is indisputable that the scientists and researchers behind the latest testing trials are heroes, but as with every story with a hero, there is also a villain.

While exact motives are still unclear, news broke this week about vaccine research centers being hacked by a Russian group called APT29, sometimes known by the name “Cozy Bear.” This group is not new.  They have led a number of attacks since as early as 2014 on the US, Canada, and other European nations. The National Cyber Security Center has now formally accused the group of attacking COVID focused research centers in the US, UK and Canada in their most recent hacks.

According to the New York Times, “The Russian espionage nevertheless signals a new kind of competition between Moscow and Washington akin to Cold War spies stealing technological secrets during the space race generations ago.”

It seems that now the stakes are even higher. While there were no dire consequences from the attack on July 28th, the worry is that the attacks could evolve from information gathering and stealing to direct sabotage. APT29 has been linked to Russian Intelligence before, so who’s to say that the end goal of the attacks is not to just expedite Russia’s own vaccine creation process, but to slow, and perhaps entirely ruin, the efforts of other countries? Controlling the only effective vaccine would be worth billions.  Whoever first creates an effective COVID-19 vaccine will have a lot of power in their hands it can choose to use for the good of mankind or for profit. One can only wonder how any particular country will respond.

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