FBI, CSIA warn of Chinese cyberattacks targeting coronavirus research organizations

Intelligence includes information related to COVID-19 'vaccines, treatments and testing'

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Organizations researching the new coronavirus are likely targets for cyber attacks coming from China, the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency warned.

Health care, pharmaceutical and research sectors studying COVID-19 should be aware that the Chinese Communist Party may be targeting their organizations online and trying to compromise access to networks in their efforts to access intelligence and public health data related to COVID-19 "vaccines, treatments and testing," according to the agencies.

"China’s efforts to target these sectors pose a significant threat to our nation’s response to COVID-19," the agencies said in a joint statement. "This announcement is intended to raise awareness for research institutions and the American public and provide resources and guidance for those who may be targeted."

Organizations that have noticed suspicious activity are asked to contact the FBI and partner with the CIAA to help protect other potential victims.

More details are expected to be released in the coming days, the agencies said.

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The CISA and the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Agency released a similar report on May 5 warning of cyber threats to organizations researching the virus. The report notes that bad actors target health care, pharmaceutical and academic organizations "to collect bulk personal information, intellectual property and intelligence that aligns with national priorities."

The agencies are currently investigating instances of bad actors targeting these organizations in attempts to compromise "sensitive research data and intellectual property for commercial and state benefit."

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The FBI, CISA and NCSA recommend organizations update their virtual private networks, or VPNs, and devices; use multi-factor authentication for employee logins; protect the management interfaces of operational systems; set up a secure monitoring system; use modern systems and software; and report suspicious activity to federal authorities.

Chinese cyber attackers have been known to steal intellectual property by compromising U.S. websites and networks to access sensitive information. China's IP theft is part of the reason President Trump implemented tariffs on the country in an effort to curb the illegal practice.

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FBI Director Christopher Wray said in August that "o country poses a broader, more severe intelligence collection threat than China," adding, "China has pioneered a societal approach to stealing innovation in any way it can, from a wide array of businesses, universities and organizations."

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