China-backed hackers targeted Moderna: US official

WASHINGTON • Chinese government-linked hackers targeted biotech company Moderna, a US-based coronavirus vaccine research developer, this year in a bid to steal data, said an American security official tracking Chinese hacking.

China yesterday rejected the accusation that hackers linked to it had targeted Moderna.

Last week, the US Justice Department made public an indictment of two Chinese nationals accused of spying on the US, including three unnamed US-based targets involved in medical research to fight the coronavirus.

The indictment said the Chinese hackers "conducted reconnaissance" against the computer network of a Massachusetts biotech firm known to be working on a coronavirus vaccine in January.

Moderna, which is based in Massachusetts and announced its Covid-19 vaccine candidate in January, confirmed to Reuters that it had been in contact with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and was made aware of the suspected "information reconnaissance activities" by the hacking group mentioned in last week's indictment.

Reconnaissance activities can include probing public websites for vulnerabilities to scouting out important accounts after entering a network, cyber experts say.

"Moderna remains highly vigilant to potential cyber-security threats, maintaining an internal team, external support services and good working relationships with outside authorities to... protect our valuable information," a spokesman said.

China has consistently denied any role in hacking and its foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing, Mr Wang Wenbin, rejected as "baseless" the accusation that hackers linked to the government had targeted Moderna.

He said China leads the world in the development of a coronavirus vaccine and it is more worried that other countries are using hackers to steal its technology.

"We absolutely do not nor need to engage in theft to achieve this leading position."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2020, with the headline 'China-backed hackers targeted Moderna: US official'. Subscribe