US officials suspect top-level Chinese hackers are trying to steal Covid-19-related information from US Labs and hospitals. Credit: Handout graphic.

As if there isn’t enough lack of trust between the US and China, now comes a report that US hospitals and research labs are being targeted by Chinese cyber activity, as Beijing seeks to obtain knowledge of progress on developing a vaccine for Covid-19.

The action was confirmed US Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, who gave an opening keynote speech at a virtual business conference hosted by Future in Review on April 23, The Epoch Times reported.

When asked after his speech whether the regime was targeting US labs for research into the virus, Demers replied: “It’s certainly the logical conclusion of everything I’ve said,” referring to his comments on the regime’s sweeping efforts to steal US trade secrets and technology across an array of industries.

“There is nothing more valuable today than biomedical research relating to vaccines or treatments for coronavirus,” Demers said.

He added that it would be “beyond absurd” to think that China would “lay off” their hands on “biomedical research relating to vaccines or treatment for coronavirus,” since the medical information would be of “great importance, not just from a commercial value.”

“Whatever country’s company or research lab develops that vaccine first and is able to produce it is going to have a significant geopolitical success story,” Demers said.

Demers said that US authorities were monitoring the hacking activity, the report said.

“We are very attuned to increased cyber intrusions into medical centers, research centers, universities — anybody that is doing research in this area.”

The novel coronavirus, which originated from central China’s Wuhan city, has since spread to over 200 countries and territories, causing over 49,800 deaths in the US alone.

China hasn’t responded to the accusations, and it’s notable that other countries have been accused of exploiting the new coronavirus, Engadget reported. 

Reuters, for instance, asserted that Iranian hackers had tried to compromise email accounts for WHO workers. Russia and North Korea are also on the short list of potential candidates.

On Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — who has been consistently attacking China over the pandemic — told Fox News, “The biggest threat isn’t our ability to work with China on cyber, it’s to make sure we have the resources available to protect ourselves from Chinese cyberattacks.”

The Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, Bill Evanina, who has led the US intelligence community’s battle against Chinese industrial and academic spying and theft of intellectual property, has also warned that critical research for Covid-19 vaccines risks being stolen and replicated overseas.

“Medical research organizations and those who work for them should be vigilant against threat actors seeking to steal intellectual property or other sensitive data related to America’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic,” Evanina told CNN.

Demers’ warning came just days after FBI Deputy Assistant Director Tonya Ugoretz sounded the alarm during a webinar hosted by the Aspen Institute on April 16 — though Ugoretz did not identify which specific countries were doing the hacking, the report said.

“We certainly have seen reconnaissance activity, and some intrusions, into some of those institutions, especially those that have publicly identified themselves as working on Covid-related research,” said Ugoretz.

Ugoretz added that while research institutes wanted to make public their ongoing research efforts, they also became “a mark for other nations” who may want to steal “proprietary information that those institutions have.”

Arising from the new wave of threats is the Cyber Threat Intelligence League, a global group of more than 1,400 vetted cyber security experts that have volunteered and banded together to highlight and take down threats as they emerge, CNN reported.

“They are trying to steal everything,” Ohad Zaidenberg, one of the group’s co-founders who is based in Israel, said of the landscape of actors.

Countries like China and Iran, he added, “can steal information regarding the coronavirus information that they don’t have, (if) they believe someone is creating a vaccine and they want to steal information about it. Or they can use the pandemic as leverage so they (can) to steal any other type of information.”

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