Oxford Covid-19 Laboratory Hacked

Oxford University and the National Security Centre (NCSC) are now investigating a cyber breach after a researcher reported that a laboratory researching COVID-19 had been hacked. The breach took place in mid-February and occurred at the Division of Structural Biology, known as Strubi, which has been carrying out research into COVID-19. The university has confirmed the attack but said it had "no impact on any clinical research".

The British National Cyber security Centre (NCSC), the cybersecurity arm of spy agency GCHQ, said in a statement that it was aware of the incident and was "working to fully understand its impact."

It is not clear who the hackers are and they are not ruling out a possible hostile foreign state at this stage. The NCSC said it had been informed by Oxford that the cyber attack had “no impact on any clinical research”. The Strubi lab is distinct from the Jenner Institute, which developed the Oxford University vaccine in conjunction with the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca. In the summer of 2020 the UK Government said it was “95 per cent” certain that Russia had attempted to hack into the Jenner Institute and steal its Covid-19 vaccine after an investigation by the NCSC and other intelligence agencies.

This latest breach was identified by Alex Holden, chief technology officer at Hold Security, said the screenshots appeared to show “interfaces” for possible lab equipment, with the ability to control pumps and pressure. 

Professor Alan Woodward, a cyber security expert at the University of Surrey, said: “With the current interest in molecular structures in Covid research one might speculate that it was someone searching for data about the virus or the vaccine. It’s difficult to see why they would want to sabotage research... As the attackers were selling access it suggests it was probably not a nation state but a group who thought nation states or those working on valuable intellectual property might pay for.”

The US, British and Canadian security services last year alleged that a hacking group believed to be operating as part of Russian intelligence services was targeting organisations involved in Covid-19 vaccine development. 

Digital espionage targeting health bodies, vaccine scientists and drug makers has surged during the COVID-19 pandemic. In December, US drug maker Pfizer Inc and its German partner BioNTech SE disclosed that documents related to development of their COVID-19 vaccine had been “unlawfully accessed” in a cyber attack on Europe’s medicines regulator.

NCSC:    Telegraph:        LiveMint:      LondonSouthEast:        Mirror:     Economic Times:      Reuters:     ITPro

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