The late security minister James Brokenshire last year said Britain was “more than 95 per cent sure” Russian state-sponsored hackers had targeted the UK, US and Canada in attacks on drug companies.
Home Office minister Damian Hinds on Monday refused to confirm the latest reports, but admitted cyber attacks were becoming more sophisticated.
He told LBC: “We live in world, I am afraid, where there is state activity seeking to engage in industrial espionage and economic espionage, there are cyber attacks that happen and so on.
“I won’t comment on the specific case that you mention because that wouldn’t be right to do in detail, but it would be fair to say, correct to say, that we face threats of this type that are different, they are more sophisticated, they are more extensive than they ever have been before.
“The face of espionage, the face of spying, is very different from when you and I were growing up and we need to constantly upgrade our capability. These are very serious matters.”
Tory MP Bob Seely, an expert in Russian affairs, told The Sun Britain needed to “get serious about Russian and Chinese espionage”.
He added: “Whether it is stealing the design for Astra- Zeneca or blackmailing us over energy by these authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, we need to get wise to them.”
Russia responded to last year’s allegations that it attempted to steal British Covid-19 vaccine research by suggesting the local vaccine was sufficiently ahead of the competition to have “no reason” to snoop.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said at the time: “The British say that they are almost certain, or 95 per cent, confident in what they say.
“Why not 96 per cent? Or 94 per cent? It seems their security services have very peculiar calculation methods.”
North Korean hackers were also accused of targeting the coronavirus vaccine project led by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca last year.
The hackers, who posed as recruiters on LinkedIn and WhatsApp, approached AstraZeneca staff with fake job offers, according to Reuters.
They then sent documents purporting to be job descriptions that were encrypted with malicious code designed to gain access to a victim’s computer.
It is thought the attempts to access sensitive material targeted a number of research staff but were ultimately unsuccessful.
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