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The US says Chinese hackers went too far during the Covid 19 crisis

It is no secret that the Covid 19 pandemic has created the best conditions for nation-state hacking. Working from home often means less security, which in turn leads to digital espionage. But on Wednesday, the United States called out Chinese-backed hackers, accusing them of not only spying on, but endangering, Covid-19 vaccine research.

As the world hurries to curb the pandemic and find a vaccine, researchers and government officials have increasingly warned of an increase in cyber attacks overall, including those likely to be information-gathering. The latter have turned to public health institutions such as the World Health Organization in particular.

“This crisis is just too important to ignore.”


John Hultquist, FireEye

The race to develop a vaccine is particularly at stake. While many countries claim that they are Not surprisingly, some nations are willing to collaborate internationally throughout the process and turn to espionage to fill in the gaps and find out what researchers may be holding back. However, if these surgeries interfere or damage vaccine development, they may violate espionage norms. In a joint statement by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, China is accused of having done just that.

“It has been observed that these actors attempted to illegally identify and illegally obtain valuable intellectual property and public health data related to vaccines, treatments, and tests from networks and staff associated with research related to Covid-19 “it says in the joint announcement. “The potential theft of this information threatens to provide safe, effective, and efficient treatment options.”

The warning provides little detail on how exactly China-related operations could hamper treatment delivery, but it could refer to the potentially distracting and cumbersome precautions companies need to take to strengthen their digital defense mechanisms.

“If espionage gives up vaccine efforts, I’m happy that CISA requires it,” said Jason Healey, a senior scientist at Columbia University’s School for International and Public Affairs who is dealing with cyber conflicts. “But they are not explicitly saying that China is trying to steal this in order to gain national security or a competitive advantage. If the US wants to stand up for standards, I look forward to doing it directly and saying where we do it think The field is lying because we are certainly also active in many of these areas. I would expect that the CIA and NSA are not just sitting on their hands. “

International standards for espionage and espionage are more of a collective project than a set of individual rules. Every nation has a security interest in espionage and will do so if it can. But generally there is still an unspoken consensus that there are limits to acceptable actions compared to those that represent aggression. In the past few decades, however, the rise of digital espionage has given nations a much broader potential and blurred these already fine lines.

The United States has had problems for years, particularly deterring Chinese cyber espionage. A landmark agreement between the two countries in 2015 seemed to slow the pace of attacks on the private sector, but since then it has become clear that the agreement was not a panacea. At this point, the United States expected Beijing to collect a certain amount of information and steal intellectual property, but increasingly publicly condemned these acts, accused Chinese hackers, and imposed sanctions as these efforts escalated. All of these tools are intended to deter espionage, albeit with little apparent success so far.

The desperation caused by the Covid 19 pandemic is a strong incentive for countries to ignore these implicit hacking controls.

“The prospect of deterrence is poor because there is a lot at stake,” said John Hultquist, director of intelligence analysis at FireEye, a security firm. “We see different actors intervening against organizations developing treatments. China, Russia, Iran. And we suspect that there are many more actors involved. This crisis is just too important to ignore. I don’t think it is very likely that someone is doing business as usual. I think everyone is focusing their efforts again on this problem. “

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