WASHINGTON - Foreign government hackers have broken into companies conducting research into COVID-19 treatment and the U.S. healthcare sector, an FBI official reportedly said.
Tonya Ugoretz, the FBI Deputy Assistant Director, told participants in an online panel discussion on Thursday that the bureau has seen state-backed hackers looking at a series of healthcare and research institutions.
She didn't specify what countries backed the hackers or what organizations were targeted.
“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,” Ugoretz said, according to Reuters.
She said that hackers routinely have their sights set on the biopharmaceutical industry but their activity is usually increased during a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic.
Ugoretz said as institutions publicize certain treatments or vaccines they're working on, it leaves them vulnerable to attacks.
“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," she added, according to the news organization.
Bill Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said, "now is the time" for institutions to be aware of attacks on their research that could be crucial in the battle against COVID-19.
“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,” he added, according to Reuters.