Russia intelligence group named 'Dukes' and 'Cozy Bear' targeted UK Covid-19 response

17 July 2020, 09:46

James Brokenshire said the attempted hacks were completely unacceptable
James Brokenshire said the attempted hacks were completely unacceptable. Picture: PA
Rachael Kennedy

By Rachael Kennedy

Security minister James Brokenshire has said Russian hackers are engaging in "completely unacceptable" behaviour in targeting British scientists working to develop a coronavirus vaccine.

Speaking to Sky News, the minister said Russian intelligence "claims to be playing by the rules" but that it is actually "seeking to exploit networks".

This, he added, is "completely unacceptable and inappropriate".

The comments come just a day after the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), along with the US National Security Agency and the Canadian Communication Security Establishment, warned of a global campaign to steal secrets of vaccine research.

It is believed a group called APT29 - also known as the Dukes or Cozy Bear - were behind the attempted hacks.

They have "effectively got into certain networks and is effectively surveilling them," Mr Brokenshire told Sky News.

He added: "We have no evidence or information of any damage or any sort of harm in that way, but that still is completely unacceptable for Russian intelligence officers to be acting in groups in this fashion, and why we have called this out."

"Russia has been interfering in Western democracies for years"

Russia has strenuously denied any wrongdoing, hitting back with saying the allegations were, themselves, "unacceptable".

Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "We find such accusations unacceptable.

"We have no information on who could have hacked pharmaceutical companies and research centres in the UK.

"We can say only one thing - Russia has nothing to do with these attempts."

Meanwhile, Russia Direct Investment Fund CEO Kirill Dmitriev said the accusations were "an attempt to tarnish the reputation of the Russian vaccine" because people are "scared of its success".

The vaccine, he added, "could potentially be the first one on the market, and it potentially could be the most effective."

The UK is home to two of the leading research programmes to develop a vaccine based at Oxford University and Imperial College London.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock says Oxford vaccine for COVID19 probably won’t be ready by September

Earlier on Thursday, Boris Johnson's spokesperson said the attacks were "despicable", adding: ""Working with our allies, we will call out those who seek to do us harm in cyber space and hold them to account."

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also condemned the activities, adding: "It is completely unacceptable that the Russian intelligence services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

"While others pursue their selfish interests with reckless behaviour, the UK and its allies are getting on with the hard work of finding a vaccine and protecting global health.

"The UK will continue to counter those conducting such cyber attacks, and work with our allies to hold perpetrators to account."