Canada’s cybersecurity agency is investigating attacks on Canadian coronavirus research facilities.

The head of the Communications Security Establishment’s Cyber Centre (CSE) Scott Jones told the House of Commons industry, science and technology committee on Wednesday that they are aware of “suspicious” and possibly “malicious” cyber activity targeting research organizations. 

“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,” Jones told the committee. 

“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.”

Only a week prior to Jones’ revelation, the CSE alongside the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) issued a warning that such institutions would be vulnerable to cyberespionage. 

“With regards to the specific threats, the (CSE’s) Cyber Centre has assessed that the COVID-19 pandemic presents an elevated level of risk to the cybersecurity of Canadian health organizations involved in the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said CSE’s acting director-general of public affairs Christopher Williams.

“(CSIS) sees an increased risk of foreign interference and espionage due to the extraordinary effort of our businesses and research centres … (CSIS’) focus is on protecting Canadian intellectual property from these threats — and jobs and economic interests with it.”

This month, the US detected similar breaches in its own coronavirus research organizations. In response to the attacks, the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency accused the People’s Republic of China of conducting cyberespionage. 

“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 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. 

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

Canada has recently partnered up with organizations being directed by the Chinese government to work towards a vaccine. 

Prim Minister Justin Trudeau announced earlier this week that researchers will begin human testing on Canadians in the coming weeks. 

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