The Federal Bureau of Investigation said Thursday that foreign government hackers have broken into U.S. companies conducting research into treating COVID-19.
In an online panel discussion hosted by the Aspen Institute, FBI Deputy Assistant Director Tonya Ugoretz said the FBI has observed state-backed hackers accessing information from health care and research institutes, Reuters reported.
“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,” she said.
Although the biopharmaceutical industry has often been targeted by hackers, Ugoretz said efforts have increased during the coronavirus pandemic.
The companies that have made it publicly known they are working on treatments and vaccines to fight the coronavirus have made themselves targets for state-backed hackers.
“The sad flipside is that it kind of makes them a mark for other nation-states that are interested in gleaning details about what exactly they’re doing and maybe even stealing proprietary information that those institutions have,” Ugoretz said.
Although Ugoretz did not identify the targeted organizations, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center cautioned all institutes conducting research to step up efforts to protect any sensitive data.
“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 COVID19 pandemic,” director Bill Evanina said.
“Now is the time to protect the critical research you’re conducting.”
Early research from Pfizer identified a drug candidate earlier this month that could keep the novel coronavirus from replicating.
The company hopes to start testing on humans this summer to prove the early findings that the experimental drug could slow or stop the spread of the virus in patients.
Pfizer is also working with BioNTech on developing a vaccine based on messenger RNA technology. The company has invested $185 million upfront and can boost its total investment to nearly $750 million.
A Thursday report from Stat described how coronavirus patients treated with Gilead Sciences’ antiviral medicine remdesivir in a clinical trial at a Chicago hospital have made quick recoveries in terms of their fever and respiratory symptoms.
Remdesivir was one of the first antiviral drugs identified as having a possible impact on SARS-CoV-2, the virus that leads to COVID-19.
Gilead is currently conducting seven clinical trials around the world to determine if the drug is safe and effective in treating COVID-19, the company’s CEO, Daniel O’Day, wrote in an open letter.
As of Friday morning, there were more than 2.1 million cases of coronavirus worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins.
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