July 16 (UPI) -- Russian computer hackers are targeting COVID-19 vaccine researchers in the United States, Britain and Canada in a bid to steal critical medical information, security officials warned Thursday.
The British National Cyber Security Center said in advisory a Russian hacking group known as "APT29," "The Dukes" and "Cozy Bear" is trying to steal "valuable intellectual property" from vaccine researchers.
The assessment said it's "highly likely" the cyberattacks are designed to collect information on COVID-19 vaccine research or data on the coronavirus itself.
The center concluded that the hackers are "almost certainly" associated with Russian intelligence and warned "malicious activity" is targeting government, diplomatic, think-tank, healthcare and energy information.
"We condemn these despicable attacks against those doing vital work to combat the coronavirus pandemic," Paul Chichester, director of operations for the National Cyber Security Center, said in a statement. "Working with our allies, the NCSC is committed to protecting our most critical assets and our top priority at this time is to protect the health sector."
The center said its suspicions have been confirmed by U.S. cybersecurity experts at the Homeland Security Department and National Security Agency, as well as authorities in Canada.
"It is completely unacceptable that the Russian intelligence services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic," British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab added in a statement.
Moscow has been accused of hacking or stealing information on numerous occasions over the past several decades. U.S. and foreign intelligence officials say it's a fact that President Vladimir Putin's regime interfered in the 2016 United States presidential election. The government was also accused of stealing vital information during Britain's development of the Concorde supersonic airliner during the 1970s to develop a Russian version, which turned out to be the Tupolev Tu-144.