Last Thursday, security officials from three countries told us that Russian hackers were targeting organizations involved in Covid-19 vaccine research in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
At first glance, this seems like an old school Cold War story with everyone other than James Bond involved. All of the familiar elements are present: a shady group of Russians called APT29, which also goes by the name “Cozy Bear” — the same group accused of hacking the Democratic National Committee in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election — and a stout denial of wrongdoing from Kirill Dmitriev, who leads the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), the country’s sovereign wealth fund, which has invested in at least one company developing a vaccine. “Accusations … regarding hacking attacks against western pharmaceutical companies are an attempt to tarnish the Russian coronavirus vaccine,” he said.
Dmitriev, who was educated at Stanford and Harvard Business School, further pressed Russia’s innocence by announcing Friday that AstraZeneca, the UK-based pharmaceutical company that is working on “the Oxford vaccine,” has agreed to allow production in Russia by a company supported by the RDIF. Despite the deal, Dmitriev said he believed the Russian vaccine was superior, so much so that he and his septuagenarian parents have already received a dose.
Still, Dmitriev insists this is a story of countries needing to “pick sides” regarding which vaccine to buy and distribute to its citizens. In his view, this is a super power race to the top that features the US, China, the UK, and, of course, Russia, as the contestants.
This approach to market dominance echoes President Donald Trump’s reported March offer of “large sums of money” to a German company to get first and only dibs on their candidate vaccine. Or his more recent swoop and run of almost all available remdesivir – keeping the only drug that has an emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration to treat Covid-19 largely in America’s hands.