Hackers targeted the UK's coronavirus vaccine research

The attacks started shortly after outbreak.

KOEN VAN WEEL via Getty Images

On top of everything else, add cybersecurity threats to the list of things the UK's National Health Service (NHS) has had to contend with during the coronavirus pandemic. In an interview with the Cheltenham Science Festival, Jeremy Fleming, the head of the country’s GCHQ security and intelligence agency, said hackers have repeatedly targeted the healthcare system since the start of the outbreak.

"The reality is that we are seeing attacks on the health infrastructure," he said. "We do know that, whether it's states or criminals, they are going after things which are sensitive to us in this regard." Fleming didn't say explicitly the attacks were state-sponsored, but The Guardian reports the agency believes China may have been involved.

The hackers attempted to access sensitive data related to the UK's coronavirus response, including work that the country has done to develop a vaccine. The hacking attempts weren't overly sophisticated. In most instances, the hackers tried to phish people with misleading links and take advantage of weak passwords. However, they were serious enough that the agency's cybersecurity arm, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), has been working with hospitals and research labs to protect them. The agency has also been helping NHS make its contact-tracing app "as secure as possible."

While we’re mostly used to seeing hackers doing their best to upset elections, it’s easy to imagine why they would also be interested in a country’s coronavirus efforts. There’s a lot to gain both financially and politically for any power that can get ahead in the vaccine race.