Chinese Hackers Targeting Moderna Coronavirus Vaccine Research

A hacker.
The NSA has issued a warning about Chinese hackers. (Image: TheDigitalArtist via Pixabay)

Hackers linked to the Chinese government tried to access data from Moderna, a U.S. COVID-19 vaccine developer. Moderna has been working toward a COVID-19 vaccine since January. The U.S. government is betting big on Moderna, hoping that it would soon release a viable vaccine.

Hacking Moderna

The U.S. Justice Department has indicted two Chinese nationals for conducting spying operations in America. Three of the targets were companies involved in researching COVID-19. According to the indictment, China-based hackers conducted reconnaissance on the computer network of a biotech firm in Massachusetts. Reconnaissance activities refer to things like entering a network to scout for important accounts, probing public websites for vulnerabilities, and so on. Security agencies did not disclose the names of the affected companies of the Chinese hackers.

Moderna later confirmed that it has been notified by the FBI and was made aware of the threat it faces from the hacking group. “Moderna remains highly vigilant to potential cybersecurity threats, maintaining an internal team, external support services, and good working relationships with outside authorities to continuously assess threats and protect our valuable information,” said company spokesman Ray Jordan, as reported by Reuters. The U.S. government is supporting Moderna and has spent close to US$500 million dollars. The company launched a clinical trial of 30,000 volunteers last month.

Chinese hackers are trying to steal Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine information.
Christopher Krebs, the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. (Image: via Wikimedia Commons)

China has refuted the hacking allegations and claims that it leads the world in terms of COVID-19 research. Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin stated that China does not have to “engage in theft to achieve this leading position.” Back in May, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security had uncovered a network of Chinese hackers tasked with stealing American COVID-19 research. Christopher Krebs, the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, had warned that given China’s history of bad behavior in cyberspace, it wouldn’t be surprising that they were trying to illegally access U.S. research.

Michael Yee, a biotech analyst at Jefferies, analyzed 12 possible scenarios regarding Moderna’s vaccine development and believes that we should have a conclusive result by late October this year. This timeline aligns with the prediction made by Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel, who believes that the company’s vaccine tests will come out positive by that time.

Vaccine development

In addition to Moderna, several other companies are at various stages of testing potential COVID-19 vaccines. Leading among them is a vaccine from the University of Oxford. A trial involving over 1,000 people showed that those who were injected with the vaccine developed T-cells and antibodies to fight the virus.

Oxford's COVID-19 vaccine looks promising.
Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine looks promising. (Image: via Pixabay)

The UK government has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine even before the test results are out, possibly indicating that vaccines should soon be deemed safe and ready for public use. No dangerous side effects were observed in the patients. Six in 10 participants developed a headache while about 17 percent suffered fever, which seems acceptable since the vaccine can help overcome the life-threatening risk posed by COVID-19.

Russia’s Gamaleya National Research Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology has conducted a final check-up of vaccine test subjects, with results showing that patients attained immune response while developing no side effects. The Russian government is planning the serial production of the vaccine by September. Doctors and teachers might be given first preference for vaccination. Pfizer has begun a 30,000-member trial for its vaccine. The company believes that a one-time vaccine may not be good enough to deal with the virus.

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