Iran and Russia are launching hacking attacks on British universities in attempt to steal corona virus vaccine secrets.
The National Cyber Security Center branded the attacks ‘utterly reprehensible’ and confirmed they were working ‘round the clock’ to battle the online menace. Security and Whitehall figures have revealed a sustained attempt to target Britain’s efforts to fight the virus by accessing emails and servers in universities and scientific facilities.
One said: ‘It looks like they’re trying to steal or borrow information about our response to corona virus.’ A separate security source said: ‘This problem intellectual property theft and a blurred line between state and serious crime – has been around for a while but there’s obviously now an increased need to ensure we protect UK PLC and its assets.’ However, it is understood that so far no major attack has been successful and there has been no attack on NHS computer systems, as happened in May 2017 with devastating effect.
The incidents mirror activity detected in the US last week. The director of America’s National Counterintelligence and Security Center, Bill Evanina, said the US government had warned all its medical research organisations of the threat.
GCHQ has been drafted in to protect the NHS from cyber attacks. The intelligence agency has been given oversight of the NHS IT network to combat criminal gangs and foreign spies.
The National Cyber Security Centre has taken down more than 2,000 online scams since the pandemic began. GCHQ is also providing the encryption for a corona virus contact-tracing app being devised by NHSX, the digital arm of the health service.