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Jul 17, 2020 • • 2 minute read
The University of Saskatchewan says it will “remain vigilant” after Canada’s digital spy agency warned Russian hackers are targeting organizations involved in researching COVID-19 vaccines.
The Canadian Communications Security Establishment (CSE) and Canadian Centre for Cyber Security issued a warning on Thursday about “Russian cyber threat activity” directed at vaccine research organizations in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.
In a prepared statement sent to Postmedia, University of Saskatchewan chief communications officer Gord Hunchak did not definitively say whether the organization had been targeted, but said it had not found any evidence of cyberattacks beyond what is normal for the school.
“While there have not been any recent changes in patterns or probes to the university’s systems, cyberattacks are an ongoing threat for all research institutions. USask remains vigilant and is constantly working to improve cybersecurity measures,” Hunchak wrote.
The CSE warned that a hacking outfit known as APT29, known sometimes as “The Dukes or “Cozy Bear,” was responsible for the hacks against similar organizations and “almost certainly” operates in conjunction with Russian intelligence services.
CSE says tactics used by the hackers includes custom malware known as “WellMess” and “WellMall” not previously associated with APT29.
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CSE says the pandemic poses “an elevated risk to the cybersecurity of Canadian health organizations involved in the national response” and is urging organizations to contact them if they suspect they have been targeted by cyber actors.
Universities, like many large organizations, increasingly find themselves in the crosshairs of hackers. In a January interview with the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, U of S chief information security officer Jonathan Coller said that at one point as much as 90 per cent of attempts to send email to the university were either spam or malicious.
Hunchak said increasing the security of networks is an ongoing priority.
“Protecting our students, our research, our institutional systems, and our data continues to be the university’s top IT priority as we strengthen and secure our IT to reduce the risks associated with cybercrime,” Hunchak wrote.