The FBI and Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday accused the Chinese government of targeting organizations conducting coronavirus research with cyberattacks, and warned that such companies should take steps to protect their systems — even as they scramble to combat a virus that originated in China.
“The FBI is investigating the targeting and compromise of U.S. organizations conducting COVID-19-related research by [the People’s Republic of China]-affiliated cyber actors and non-traditional collectors,” the public service announcement issued by the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) said.
“These actors have been observed attempting to identify and illicitly obtain valuable intellectual property (IP) and public health data related to vaccines, treatments, and testing from networks and personnel affiliated with COVID-19-related research,” the advisory said. “The potential theft of this information jeopardizes the delivery of secure, effective, and efficient treatment options.”
The agencies recommend that organizations assume that press attention will lead to increased activity from nefarious actors, patch their relevant systems, suspend access of users engaging in “unusual activity” and scan for unauthorized access or “anomalous activities.”
The warning comes amid an escalating standoff between Beijing and Washington over the coronavirus pandemic — which originated in Wuhan, China. U.S. officials are investigating whether the naturally occurring virus came from a wet market or escaped from a Wuhan lab where sources have said it was being studied.
A number of other countries’ intelligence agencies reportedly share the U.S. view that China covered up the spread of the virus in the early days of the pandemic — including that it can be spread from person-to-person, and by silencing doctors seeking to raise the alarm.
It has led to a number of Republican lawmakers calling for a response. On Tuesday Sen. Lindsey Graham introduced a bill that would slap sanctions on China should it not cooperate with an international investigation into the outbreak of the virus.