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Science & Technology Series: Expert Comment

Are state-sponsored Chinese actors cyber hacking coronavirus vaccines?

City, University of London academics, Professor David Stupples and Dr Enrico Bonadio, comment on allegations of China’s use of espionage to gain control of COVID-19 vaccine outcomes.
by John Stevenson (Senior Communications Officer)

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According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and Department of Homeland Security in the United States, China-linked cyber actors have attempted to illegally obtain valuable intellectual property (IP) and public health data related to vaccines, treatments, and testing from networks and personnel affiliated with COVID-19-related research.

The US agencies have also warned that institutions and companies involved in vaccines, treatments and testing for the coronavirus should take additional security measures to protect data and be aware of the potential threat.

301122City’s Professor of Electronic and Radio Engineering, Professor David Stupples says "it has been known for the last 20 years that China is actively engaged in cyber espionage and cyber surveillance."

Superpower ambitions

He believes that China’s aim "is to gain access to state and military strategic planning, business and commercial planning, and, importantly, intellectual property and research results.”

Professor Stupples says “China's raison d’etre is to lead the world in every strand of life to enhance its superpower ambitions, and it is proving to be very successful. China has invested more than any other country is espionage and illicit cyber activities and it is considered to be a world leader in the technology underpinning these activities, and in the training of large numbers of people to orchestrate these activities.”

Professor Stupples is also of the view that recent allegations against the People’s Republic of China (PRC) should be looked at within the broader context of its quest for overall control of the world’s internet of everything (IoE) and the role played by telecoms giant Huawei:

Although there is no direct proof that Huawei supports these espionage and surveillance activities, it has been long suspected that the company is part of China's ubiquitous state-run espionage machine -  nothing can happen in China without the approval of the central government of the PRC. That said, nothing would be simpler than to plan and execute espionage and surveillance activities world-wide, if the PRC controlled much of the world's communications infrastructure. Huawei is successfully becoming the leading supplier in most countries. Once in place, the grand plan for control of IoE will be complete. We are witnessing the success of this strategy as China seeks to access and copy all pharmaceutical research worldwide thus enabling it to control virus and epidemic outcomes world-wide. Every country would then become reliant on China to cure the world's ills.

Dr Enrico Bonadio, a Reader and specialist in Intellectual Property Law in The City Law School, maintains that it comes as no surprise that there are accusations supported and fuelled by President Donald Trump that the Chinese government might steal the results of current research and related secrets around COVID-19 vaccines.

521438“In recent decades, the US has often complained about Chinese theft of US intellectual property, ranging from pharmaceuticals to Hollywood and Disney movies, not to speak about the mis-appropriation of software and the internet piracy of music. It is a never-ending tension. Relations reached a low in the late 2000s when the US took China to a World Trade Organisation court for the alleged failure by the latter to comply with certain obligations to protect foreign copyright and guarantee that professional IP infringers face criminal sanctions. US legal action, however, was only partially successful.”

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