Canadian spy agency warns of possible security breach related to coronavirus research

Canada's cyber spy agency has launched an investigation into a possible security breach at Canadian organization conducting Covid-19 research.

Canada's cyber spy agency said that authorities have launched an investigation into a possible security breach at Canadian organizations currently conducting Covid-19 research. This comes less than a week after it warned that Canadian intellectual property surrounding the pandemic would be a target for state-sponsored actors.

"We've seen some compromises in research organizations that we've been helping to mitigate and we're still continuing to look through what's the root cause of those," said Scott Jones, head of the Communications Security Establishment's Cyber Centre.

"Yes, we've seen activity coming from organizations where they've seen malicious activity, or at least suspicious [activity], and we're working with them to determine whether or not it was malicious, where it came from and who, and was a success or not."

It is not apparent where or when the potential compromises happened, or if they are indeed state-sponsored.

When questioned by Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Jones said the intelligence side of the agency is looking into the origins of the "malicious activity."

Last week, the CSE and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service issued an unusual joint statement warning of a foreign espionage effort that was targeting agencies involved in pandemic response.

"The Communications Security Establishment has assessed that it is near certain that state-sponsored actors have shifted their focus during the pandemic and that Canadian intellectual property represents a valuable target," said the Canadian statement.

"With regards to the specific threats, the Cyber Centre has assessed that the COVID-19 pandemic presents an elevated level of risk to the cyber security of Canadian health organizations involved in the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic."

Last week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency within the US publicly accused communist China of zoning in on US organizations conducting Covid-19 research.

"The United States condemns attempts by cyber actors and non-traditional collectors affiliated with the People's Republic of China (PRC) to steal U.S. intellectual property and data related to COVID-19 research," said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement.

"The potential theft of this information jeopardizes the delivery of secure, effective and efficient treatment options."

The Canadian statement from last week mentioned both agencies work closely with the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, which includes the US.

"We regularly share information with our partners, including the US, which has a significant impact on protecting our respective countries' safety and security," it said.

CSE sounded off the alarm of potential state-sponored security breaches since the outbreak of the virus started.

"These actors may attempt to gain intelligence on COVID-19 response efforts and potential political responses to the crisis, or to steal ongoing key research towards a vaccine or other medical remedies," warned a March alert.

The agency warned that sophisticated threat actors could compromise Canadian medical research related to the pandemic through manipulation or spear-phishing campaigns, or possibly targeting critical vulnerabilities as the more home-bound employees connect with their place of work through virtual private networks (VPNs).