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Monday, January 25th, 2021

Sen. Peters urges Trump administration to take action against foreign actors seeking to steal COVID-19 research

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U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) criticized the Trump administration for what he calls its lack of action against foreign adversaries, including Russia, China, and North Korea, that have launched cyber-attacks against American hospitals and research institutions in an attempt to steal information related to the development of COVID-19 vaccines.

“I am angered by these government-sponsored cyberattacks and your lack of action to deter them over the past months. And now you’ve decided to fire the Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the Deputy Director of CISA, and the CISA Assistant Director for cybersecurity. CISA, with the Department of Defense, is responsible for the cybersecurity of your own Operation Warp Speed to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, and you’ve removed its top three cybersecurity leaders,” Peters wrote in a letter to President Donald Trump.

Trump fired senior cybersecurity official Christopher Krebs earlier this month. Also, two pharmaceutical companies recently came out with announcements that their vaccines could be highly effective.

“I urge you, again, to send a strong message to any foreign government attempting to hack into our medical institutions that this behavior is unacceptable. The Administration should use the tools at its disposal, including the threat of sanctions, to deter future attacks against research institutions. In the event that any foreign government directly threatens the lives of Americans through attacks on medical facilities, other Department of Defense capabilities should be considered to make it clear that there will be consequences for these actions.”

The cyberattacks on healthcare providers’ and vaccine researchers’ information systems put Americans’ health and safety at risk, Peter said. Peters sent a letter to Trump on May 12 urging him to take action after it was reported that the Chinese government sponsored attacks against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), hospitals, research laboratories, and pharmaceutical companies to steal COVID-19 treatment and vaccine research.

“Given the continuation of attacks throughout the year, and your lack of response to my previous letter, I reiterate my request for you to take all necessary measures to protect medical institutions working to save lives by developing treatments and a vaccine for COVID-19,” Peter wrote.

He calls for the Trump administration to direct CISA and CYBERCOM to continue to prioritize cybersecurity support to hospitals and medical research institutions; utilize all levers of national power – diplomatic, military, economic, and law enforcement – to deter adversary governments from any attacks against U.S. health care system; increase cybersecurity funding; and direct HHS Secretary Azar to prioritize HHS information technology appropriations towards improvements in cybersecurity.