China is being accused of trying to infiltrate systems to steal coronavirus data, forcing the FBI and US Homeland Security’s cybersecurity advisory unit CISA to issue a stark warning.
Foreign agencies have allegedly targeted “valuable intellectual property and public health data related to vaccines, treatments, and testing”, according to a joint statement released on Thursday (Australian time).
The spies and hackers are backed by the Chinese government, the organisations alleged as they warned of a “significant threat” to the coronavirus response.
The US allegations that China is trying to steal coronavirus secrets is expected to intensify growing tensions between the two superpowers.
It comes as President Donald Trump and senior US officials continued their war of words with Chinese counterparts.
- Read the full FBI and CISA statement here
“Here is what we know for sure. The virus originated in Wuhan, China. The Chinese Communist Party knew about this virus in December of 2019 [and] attempted to obfuscate this,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told an Israeli newspaper on Wednesday.
“They denied people the ability to talk, they didn’t share this information quickly enough, they created enormous risk for the world.”
Beijing has strongly denied Washington’s charges.
US has not yet released its evidence
The latest claims by security agencies demonstrate growing concern about a surge in cybertheft and attacks by nations seeking to gain an advantage in the pandemic.
The statement did not include specific methods or evidence, but it’s expected the US will release further details in coming days.
In the meantime, the FBI and CISA are urging healthcare, pharmaceutical, and research bodies to take “necessary steps to protect their systems” as they are “prime targets” for hackers from China.
Follow these tips to protect your research:
• Patch systems for critical vulnerabilities.
• Scan web applications for unauthorized access, modification, or anomalous activities.
• Bolster credential requirements.
• Report suspicious activity at https://t.co/MWss57C5gI. pic.twitter.com/DdRiMdDA94
— FBI (@FBI) May 13, 2020
CISA also wants them to “partner with the agency in order to help protect these critical response efforts”.
“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,” its statement said.
Just last week, CISA and Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre revealed Chinese hackers were using a technique called password spraying to break into systems used by healthcare and medical research organisations aiding the coronavirus relief effort.
Staff was subsequently urged to “change any passwords that could be reasonably guessed”. Password spraying is an attempt to access a large number of accounts using commonly known passwords.