A medical worker takes a swab from a woman at a medical facility in Moscow on Thursday. AFP
Intelligence agencies in the three nations alleged that the hacking group APT29, also known as Cozy Bear and said to be part of the Russian intelligence service, is attacking academic and pharmaceutical research institutions involved in COVID-19 vaccine development.
"It is completely unacceptable that the Russian Intelligence Services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic,'' British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement, accusing Moscow of pursuing "selfish interests with reckless behaviour.”
Russia's Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The persistent and ongoing attacks are seen by intelligence officials as an effort to steal intellectual property, rather than to disrupt research.
The campaign of "malicious activity'' is ongoing and includes attacks "predominantly against government, diplomatic, think tank, health care and energy targets,'' Britain's National Cyber Security Centre said in a statement.
Britain's NCSC said its assessment was shared by the US Department of Homeland Security, the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency and the National Security Agency, and by the Canadian Communication Security Establishment.
It was unclear whether any information actually was stolen, but the UK says individuals’ confidential information is not believed to have been compromised.
The UK statement did not say whether Russian President Vladimir Putin knew about the vaccine research hacking, but British officials believe such intelligence would be highly prized.
A 16-page advisory prepared by Western agencies accuses Cozy Bear of using custom malicious software to target a number of organizations globally. The malware, called WellMess and WellMail, has not previously been associated with the hacking group, the advisory said.
"In recent attacks targeting COVID-19 vaccine research and development, the group conducted basic vulnerability scanning against specific external IP addresses owned by the organisations. The group then deployed public exploits against the vulnerable services identified,” the advisory said.
The US Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity agency warned in April that cybercriminals and other groups were targeting COVID-19 research, noting at the time that the increase in people teleworking because of the pandemic had created potential avenues for hackers to exploit.
The global reach and international supply chains of these organisations also make them vulnerable, the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said in an alert published in conjunction with its counterparts in Britain.
The vaccine, called AZD1222, has been described by the World Health Organisation's chief scientist as the leading candidate in a global race to halt a pandemic that has claimed more than 600,000 lives.
Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla called the development "a great day for science and humanity." Health experts said Pfizer's results show vaccines can halt pandemic.
Britain is aiming for a "cautious but irreversible" plan to exit coronavirus lockdown, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday, as the country greeted the first arrivals subject to a new hotel quarantine regime.
Preliminary projections make the availability of one or several vaccines seem possible by autumn 2020," the Robert Koch Institute said in a statement on its website, citing a global effort to bring immunisations to market.
This came in a phone call Sheikh Mohamed received on Wednesday from the Syrian president where they also discussed the ongoing developments in Syria and the Middle East in addition to issues of regional and international interest.
Beijing has maintained a relentless zero-Covid approach with strict border closures and targeted lockdowns, even as other countries tentatively try to ease restrictions.
The pony-tailed senior Khan sporting dark shades and a black facemask over a grey half-sleeved T-shirt was virtually mobbed by the paparazzi and the hordes of policemen as he entered the menacing barred gates of the ARCJ in the congested south Mumbai.