Moscow-backed hackers are attempting to steal valuable coronavirus treatment research from medical and educational institutions worldwide, Reuters reported Thursday.
The hacking group APT29, which is also called Cozy Bear, is widely suspected to be an arm of the Kremlin's intelligence services. The group uses malware and phishing to breach American, British, and Canadian anti-coronavirus operations, according to Britain's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).
"We condemn these despicable attacks against those doing vital work to combat the coronavirus pandemic," said NCSC director of operations Paul Chichester. A Russian spokesman denied London's suspicions, saying there was insufficient evidence to back claims of state sabotage.
Recent developments in the fight against COVID-19 render data theft especially pernicious. One American vaccine's success in boosting immune systems led to authorization on Wednesday for the final stage of testing.
If confirmed, this would not be the first instance of Russian hackers interfering with domestic affairs in the transatlantic alliance. Cozy Bear is suspected to have orchestrated a hack of the Democratic National Committee before the 2016 presidential election. Russia also attempted to hack military families' personal information earlier this year.
Beyond hacking attempts, Russia has muscled up in the political arena. In recent weeks, Moscow and Beijing took steps toward a relationship based on countering American power. Moscow has also flaunted the Open Skies Treaty, deploying reconnaissance planes to gather intelligence on the United States.
Inside the country itself, President Vladimir Putin proposed constitutional changes that would allow him to remain in executive power until 2036.