State Hackers Target UK Unis for #COVID19 Vaccine Research

State-sponsored hackers have been targeting UK universities with greater frequency of late in a bid to steal research on developing COVID-19 vaccines, according to a government security agency.

It is thought that Russia, Iran and possibly China have all been probing institutions like Oxford University, which started human clinical trials on a vaccine this week, and scientific facilities.

Although there have reportedly been no successful attacks to date, there’s plenty of opportunity, with dozens of UK organizations working on treatments and tests for the coronavirus.

“Any attack against efforts to combat the coronavirus crisis is utterly reprehensible. We have seen an increased proportion of cyber-attacks related to coronavirus and our experts work around the clock to help organizations targeted,” a spokesperson from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) told the Guardian.

“However, the overall level of cyber-attacks from both criminals and states against the UK has remained stable during the pandemic.”

It is hoped that if the vaccine is successful, the Oxford University researchers will team up with Cambridge-based drug firm AstraZeneca to manufacture and distribute it.

This isn’t the first time the alarm has been sounded over cyber-threats to the UK’s university sector, although the stakes have raised significantly given the current crisis.

The NCSC was forced to issue a report last September highlighting the threat to higher education from both state-sponsored attackers and cyber-criminals.

At the time, the GCHQ body urged universities to improve user security awareness, tighten access controls and revisit network architecture to segment high-value data.

“While it is highly likely that cybercrime will present the most evident difficulties for universities, state-sponsored espionage will likely cause greater long-term damage. This is particularly true for those universities which prize innovation and research partnerships. This damage will extend to the UK’s larger national interest and to those researchers whose work may give others the chance to 'publish first'” the report argued.

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