WASHINGTON — The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s cyber division warned on Wednesday that hackers backed by the Chinese government may be attempting to steal the work of researchers dealing with the response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Both the FBI and the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said that health care and pharmaceutical researchers need to be alert to potential attacks and should take measures to protect their data.
Neither organization released names of any specific institutions that had been targeted. The Department of Justice said institutions that have received media attention for their efforts related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, should assume that they would be targeted and should take precautions.
“The potential theft of this information jeopardizes the delivery of secure, effective, and efficient treatment options,” the Department of Justice said in a statement.
It comes amid heightened tensions between the two countries over the source of the outbreak and Trump administration complaints that China did not adequately alert the world to the danger posed by the new coronavirus. China has urged the U.S. to "stop unwarranted accusations.”
U.S. authorities have also long said that Chinese government hackers have stolen economic and academic data.
The FBI encourages victims to report information concerning suspicious or criminal activity to their local field offices. CISA is asking for all organizations supporting the COVID-19 response to partner with the agency in order to help protect these critical response efforts.