An unnamed U.S. security official told Reuters on Friday that hackers linked to the Chinese government have targeted Moderna, Inc., a Massachusetts-based biotech firm conducting research on vaccines for the Wuhan coronavirus.
Moderna representatives confirmed that the company has been in contact with the FBI about “information reconnaissance activities” conducted against it by the Chinese hackers identified in an indictment that was unsealed Tuesday.
Reuters’ government source did not provide many details of the alleged cyberattack. Moderna representatives said the company “remains highly vigilant to potential cybersecurity threats” and mentioned the link to Chinese nationals Li Xiaoyu and Dong Jiazhi, named in an 11-count indictment unsealed by the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) this week.
Li and Dong were charged with running a massive decade-long cyberespionage campaign, with direction and assistance from Chinese intelligence agents, that recently included coronavirus research among its targets.
Reuters described Moderna as “one of the earliest and biggest bets by the Trump administration to fight the pandemic,” noting it has received half a billion dollars in government support and is currently running a clinical trial for a coronavirus vaccine that has nearly 30,000 participants.
At least two other American biotech firms were allegedly targeted by Li and Dong. Reuters looked at some clues in the indictment and speculated they are Gilead Sciences Inc. of California and Novavax Inc. of Maryland. Neither of those companies was willing to comment at length on the story, but Novavax confirmed its cybersecurity team has been “alerted to the alleged foreign threats identified in the news.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry denounced the allegations in the Reuters report as “baseless” and insisted China “absolutely does not, nor need to, engage in theft to achieve” its supposedly “leading position” in coronavirus research.