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Senior intelligence official says China, Russia targeting COVID-19 vaccine supply chain

Senior intelligence official says China, Russia targeting COVID-19 vaccine supply chain
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William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC), said Tuesday he was concerned about efforts by China and Russia to target the COVID-19 vaccine supply chain.

“It’s a very complex problem, and I would definitely commend the women and men of the Army and the entire government that is part of Operation Warp Speed to ensure that we are able to facilitate that transportation of the vaccine safely full well knowing our adversaries are trying to disrupt that supply chain,” Evanina said during a virtual event hosted by The Washington Post.

When asked by the publication’s national security reporter Ellen Nakashima which countries he may be concerned were interfering in the COVID-19 vaccine supply chain, Evanina said, “China and Russia right now."

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Evanina is not the first to raise concerns about potential physical and cyber efforts aimed at interfering in the vaccine supply chain. 

Tonya Ugoretz, the FBI’s deputy assistant director of the Cyber Readiness, Outreach, and Intelligence Branch, said last month that “nation state adversaries” were “combining cyber with using more traditional espionage and human sources to try to penetrate organizations” involved in the manufacturing and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. 

Her comments came after The Wall Street Journal reported in December that North Korean hackers had attempted to hack into at least six pharmaceutical groups in the U.S. and the United Kingdom involved in developing the COVID-19 vaccine, including Johnson & Johnson and Novavax.

IBM subsequently released a report warning that a “global phishing campaign” was targeting the cold storage portion of the COVID-19 vaccine supply chain, with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) putting out a joint alert urging groups involved in vaccine transport and storage to be on guard against cyberattacks. 

Evanina emphasized Tuesday that NCSC is working “very closely” with groups including the U.S. Army and the Department of Health and Human Services to “help facilitate safe transportation and protection from the manufacturing site to the end user to inoculation.”

Both China and Russia have been cited as nation states involved in targeting COVID-19 vaccine research prior to the production and transportation of vaccines. 

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The governments of the U.S., the United Kingdom and Canada put out a joint alert last year alleging that Russian hackers were targeting researchers and organizations involved in developing COVID-19 vaccines. 

FBI Director Christopher Wray testified to a Senate committee in September that Chinese hackers were targeting those involved in COVID-19 research as well.

“We are seeing very aggressive activity by the Chinese, and in some cases by others, to target our COVID-related research, whether it’s vaccines, treatments, testing technology, etc.,” Wray said.