A Russian hacking group has been targeting organisations working on possible coronavirus vaccines in the UK, US and Canada, an international group of security services said on Thursday.As per The New York Times reports, the National Security Agency alleged that APT29, the hacking group known as Cozy Bear — who “almost certainly operate as part of Russian intelligence services” — attacked academic groups and labs that are involved in vaccine research. Also Read - COVID-19 Vaccine Update: Bharat Biotech's COVAXIN Begins Human Trials, 'No Adversities' so Far

“It is completely unacceptable that the Russian intelligence services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said. Paul Chichester, director of operations at Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), said the hackers carried out “despicable attacks against those doing vital work.”

“We would urge organizations to familiarize themselves with the advice we have published to help defend their networks,” Chichester said. In an advisory published Thursday, Britain’s NCSC said that a group named APT29, also known as “the Dukes” or “Cozy Bear,” targeted British, American and Canadian vaccine research and development organisations.

The group used custom malware known as “WellMess” and “WellMail” to target a number of organizations globally, the NCSC said. The British government said it was 95 per cent certain that APT29 was part of the Russian intelligence services. It was highly likely that the group was trying to collect information on vaccine research or research on the virus itself, Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement.

It is important to call out the actions so as to reinforce a “common understanding of rules-based norms” and “deter malicious foreign cyber actors from targeting our country,” Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan wrote on Twitter.

APT29 was one of the two Russian-linked hacking groups that U.S. intelligence agencies accused of breaking into the Democratic National Committee computer network and stealing emails ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

However, the Russians are not alone in trying to steal vaccine information from the United States and other countries. The US government has previously warned about efforts by China and Iran to steal vaccine research.