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Russian Hackers in the Global Vaccine Race
July 17, 2020 16:48

The development of vaccines for COVID-19 is analogous to the race to conquer space in the 1960s. No wonder spies have appeared in this global competition.

The race to create vaccines turned into another high-profile cyber espionage scandal for Russia. On Thursday, July 16, the UK's National Cyber ​​Security Center (NCSC) reported that the organizations that are developing a vaccine against coronavirus were attacked by hackers from Russia - a certain group APT29, also known as The Dukes and Cozy Bear. A grouping by this name has already surfaced in the context of attacks on various organizations in the United States - in particular, the cybersecurity company CrowdStrike came to the conclusion that it was Cozy Bear that was behind the hacking of the National Committee of the Democratic Party of the United States in 2015.

These hackers are almost certainly part of Russian intelligence services, the NCSC notes. The hackers used phishing as well as malicious software called WellMess and WellMail. "In 2020, APT29 attacked various organizations involved in the development of the COVID-19 vaccine in Canada, the US and the UK," NCSC said. The United States and Canada made similar statements. The Kremlin claims that all the accusations are unfounded.

However, the context of the latest events around the creation of drugs against coronavirus fully admits the possibility of attracting special services, and not only Russian ones. The development of a vaccine against COVID-19 is already being compared to the race to conquer space in the 1960s. Different countries show different approaches to work: Europe is inclined to collective action, joint fundraising and sees vaccines more as a common good, while the United States and Russia are more likely to demonstrate “vaccine nationalism”.

Who is leading and who is behind in this race? Of the 150 vaccines currently in development, more than 30 have already reached clinical trials. And in China, the vaccine produced by CanSino Biologics has already been approved for use among the military. At the most advanced stage of clinical trials, the third phase, which involves testing on thousands of people, is the development of the British-Swedish company AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford (trials are taking place in the UK, Brazil and South Africa). Moreover, the development is carried out, including the money from the US government - this is part of the Operation Warp Speed ​​program, aimed at the earliest possible creation of a vaccine. In addition to the Oxford development, the program includes a vaccine from the American Moderna (going to the final phase of trials in July), Merck (another American company that conducts preclinical trials), a joint development of Pfizer and BioNTech, and a vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. Also, two Chinese companies (Sinopharm and Sinovac) and the Australian Murdoch Children’s Research Institute entered the home stretch of testing.

Russia, later than the most successful competitors, switched to clinical trials. The development of the Gamaleya Center of the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation, where RDIF and R-Pharm have invested (and the head of RDIF Kirill Dmitriev even tested it himself), advanced further than anyone else. While the first phase of testing is completed, the second will end on August 3, and the third will take place in Russia and the Middle East. However, the authorities and doctors promise to be among the first in the world to start mass vaccination of Russians. Director of the National Research Center for Epidemiology Alexander Gintsburg previously said that the mass vaccination of Russians against COVID-19 would begin in autumn.

Author: Anna Dorozhkina

Tags: coronavirus Russian hackers Russia international   

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