COVID vaccine maker Moderna hacked; Chinese connection suspected

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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According to a US security official monitoring the Chinese hacking activities, hackers linked with the Chinese government targeted biotech company Moderna Inc, a leading U.S. coronavirus vaccine research company. The hacking that happened earlier this year was, allegedly, an attempt to steal valuable data.

The US Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against two Chinese citizens suspected of spying on the United States, and three undisclosed US targets engaged in medical research to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuit notes that the Chinese hackers have “conducted reconnaissance” on a biotech firm’s computer network that was believed to have been working on a coronavirus vaccine in January.

Reconnaissance activities may involve a wide variety of acts, including searching public websites for vulnerabilities and examining important accounts after accessing a network, say experts on cybersecurity.

Moderna ‘s vaccine candidate is one of the Trump administration ‘s earliest and best attempts to fight the pandemic. By contributing nearly half a billion dollars, the federal government is supporting the development of the company’s vaccine and helping Moderna begin a clinical trial starting this month for up to 30000 individuals.

China is also bringing together its public, military and private sectors to develop a vaccine that can help to fight an epidemic that has killed more than 660,000 people worldwide.
According to the indictment published on 7 July, the two Chinese hackers, Dong Jiazhi and Li Xiaoyu conducted a decade-long hacking spree that includes the targeting of COVID-19 medical research groups most recently.

Li and Dong worked as contractors for China’s state intelligence agency, the Ministry of State Security, the prosecutors claim.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington commented that “China has long been a big target of cyber thefts and assaults” and these practices are “firmly opposed and battled” by its officials. The Communist government has denied any involvement in hacking incidents worldwide.

Chinese hacking groups suspected to be closely aligned with the Chinese State Security Ministry are one of the primary forces targeting COVID-19 work worldwide, says a security analyst familiar with several hacking investigations involving leading biotech companies in the past year.