Republicans introduce bill to defend universities conducting coronavirus research against hackers

Republicans introduce bill to defend universities conducting coronavirus research against hackers
© Getty Images

Reps. Andy BarrAndy BarrRep. Andy Barr beats back Democratic challenge in Kentucky Reclaiming the American Dream Powell, Mnuchin stress limits of current emergency lending programs MORE (R-Ky.) and Frank LucasFrank Dean LucasThe US's investment in AI is lagging, we have a chance to double it Trump administration signs AI research and development agreement with the UK OVERNIGHT ENERGY:  House passes sweeping clean energy bill | Pebble Mine CEO resigns over secretly recorded comments about government officials  | Corporations roll out climate goals amid growing pressure to deliver MORE (R-Okla.) on Tuesday introduced legislation intended to defend universities conducting COVID-19 research against foreign malicious hackers.

The legislation would require the director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) at the Department of Commerce to create guidance and send other resources to help universities and institutions conducting coronavirus research defend themselves. 

The bill’s introduction came after months of reported foreign targeting of groups conducting COVID-19 research, including Russian and Chinese hackers, as pressure mounts to produce vaccines and treatments for the virus. 


Lucas, who serves as ranking member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, described the bill as a “simple but strong way to protect American research and support the fight against COVID-19.”

“We’ve seen disturbing evidence of state-sponsored cyberattacks from the Chinese Communist Party directed at universities and organizations conducting vital research on combating COVID-19,” he said. “This compromises our research efforts and delays our ability to identify vaccines and treatments.”

Lucas said that NIST’s Cybersecurity Framework, which would be the baseline of the guidance for universities as required by the legislation, “is the gold standard for cyber protection, and tailoring these guidelines for academia and research institutions will keep our data safe from theft and manipulation by foreign actors.”

Barr, who is a member of the China Task Force launched by House Republicans earlier this year, said in a separate statement that "Congress must act to safeguard critical scientific Coronavirus research being conducted at universities nationwide."

“My bill would have the Director of National Institute of Standards and Technology put forth guidance to preserve COVID-19 research and greatly reduce the threat of cyberattacks,” he added. “This includes providing best practices and guidelines that will protect our national security.”


House Republicans have attempted to address the issue of foreign targeting of COVID-19 research in recent weeks by including $53 million for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to defend coronavirus vaccine development against hackers, among other cyber initiatives, in a proposed coronavirus stimulus package. 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Congress inches closer to virus relief deal McCarthy woos Freedom Caucus with eye on Speakership House GOP uses procedural tool to protest proxy voting MORE (R-Calif.) also introduced legislation last month that would sanction foreign hackers targeting and stealing COVID-19 research. 

These efforts come after the FBI and CISA issued a joint alert in May warning that Chinese government-backed hackers were targeting groups conducting COVID-19 research. More recently, the U.S., the United Kingdom and Canada put out a separate alert warning that a Russian hacking group was targeting COVID-19 research in all three countries.