What Taiwan did right to curb coronavirus

An engineer works at the Quality Control Laboratory on an experimental vaccine for the Covid-19 at the Sinovac Biotech facilities in Beijing on April 29, 2020. PHOTO | NICOLAS ASFOURI

Photo credit: AFP

What you need to know:

  • More than a dozen countries have reportedly redeployed military and intelligence hackers to carry out the data espionage.
  • The Chinese government has long been on the receiving end for stealing American intellectual property and technology, which they have often denied.

Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies are in an international race to find a vaccine for Covid-19.  Computer hackers have turbocharged their efforts to break these organisations and steal critical Covid-19 research information.

At the global level, there is an unspoken superiority contest between countries to be the first to discover the coveted vaccine. This aggressive contest is the reason cyber schemers are out to steal or scuttle critical vaccine information. 

The culprits are planning to use the Covid-19 vaccine research information to help their countries jump the line and be the first to claim credit for producing the sought-after vaccine.  Some want to hack the research laboratories of their rival countries and thwart their research and development process of the vaccines.

More than a dozen countries have reportedly redeployed military and intelligence hackers to carry out the data espionage.

Malicious software

Russian hackers are accused of targeting British, Canadian and American organisations using malicious software or malware. They send fake emails to staff working on the vaccines to trick them into giving out passwords and other security credentials that give them entry into vaccine research vaults.

Cyber spying and cyber-attacks are not uncommon. In 2016, America reprimanded Russia for using cyber-attack tools to meddle in its 2016 presidential election that saw President Donald Trump ascend to the presidency.

The Chinese government has long been on the receiving end for stealing American intellectual property and technology, which they have often denied.

In recent weeks, the United States and its allies have been pushing back more aggressively on China’s tech ambitions, prominent among them blocking Huawei’s access to their 5G market.

There have also been ongoing concerns about the risks of cyber-attacks against health organisations and universities, which could undermine their ability to respond to the outbreak.

Covid-19 vaccine

The Kenyan government, businesses and individuals must jealously protect prized Covid-19 vaccine and treatment information. And caution should not just be exercised by the organisations leading in Covid-19 vaccine development or treatment, but by all.

When the cybercriminals are on the prowl for classified information, they often widen their scope to unsuspecting countries, companies and even individuals and glean out any valuable information.  Intellectual property is top on the list of cyber attackers.

Once information is stolen, the costs and other inconveniences are immense. When a bank is hacked, for example, it is expected to inform all its affected clients. The reputation of the affected organisation or a government can be irreparably damaged.

Here is my point: The global race for a vaccine is made more difficult by cyberattacks aimed at siphoning critical intellectual property from biotechnology companies and researchers. 

No entity is immune to these cyberattacks and no one knows when they will strike. Given that Kenya is a hub for innovations in the region, we should always keep our online and offline security antennae up and on the ready.

Mr Wambugu is an informatician. Email: [email protected] Twitter: samwambugu2