The Russian government has denied claims that state-sponsored hackers have been stealing Covid-19 vaccine research from academic and pharmaceutical organizations in the West. Speaking to CNBC on July 20, Russia’s finance minister Anton Siluanov said “there are no hackers” working for the government.

“There are no hackers working for the Russian government, so our government does not consider any actions by hackers, nor does it coordinate them,” he said, adding that no one had been employed with the specific purpose of accessing pharma firms’ websites.

Siluanov said there was no point in hackers being “involved in these activities” because Russia is trying to develop its own coronavirus vaccine.

Last week, the U.S. and U.K. accused Russian hacking group linked to the government, dubbed “APT29” or “Cozy Bear,” of targeting “various organizations involved in Covid-19 vaccine development in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, highly likely with the intention of stealing information and intellectual property relating to the development and testing of Covid-19 vaccines.”

Russia’s denial comes as a long-awaited new report from the U.K.’s ISC names Russia a “highly capable cyber actor with a proven capability to carry out operations.”

The ISC’s report also says “immediate action” is needed to help intelligence services tackle “this very capable adversary.”

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Russia’s denials “are not borne out by the facts”

The claim by Russia’s finance minister that there are no hackers working for the Russian government is “a bare faced lie,” says Philip Ingram, MBE, a former colonel in British military intelligence. However, he points out that the claim does fit with the Russian doctrine of маскировка (maskirovka), which is “masking”—or “denying responsibility for anything.” 

Ingram points out: “The long-awaited Russia Report released today clearly says, ‘Russia’s cyber capability, when combined with its willingness to deploy it in a malicious capacity, is a matter of grave concern, and poses an immediate and urgent threat to our national security.’ 

He adds: “The responsibility lies with the Russian military intelligence agency the GRUA team of GRU cyber experts were caught by Dutch authorities outside the offices of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in 2018. Their denials are not borne out by the facts.”

Ian Thornton-Trump, CISO at Cyjax, agrees. “The security research community is united in the consensus view that Russian cyber operations are a deeply integrated part of Russian military operations and foreign policy. The evidence from all of previous known attacks and many more classified unpublished attacks is insurmountable and irrefutable.”

At the same time, Thornton-Trump is not surprised that vaccine research is being targeted by hackers as countries across the world try to put a halt to the global pandemic crippling their economies.

He warns: “The critical national infrastructure including pharma (research of the vaccine) and biopharma (production of vaccine) as well as the supply chain have all seen increased attacks from CRINK (China, Russia, Iran and North Korea).”

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