One of the Oxford University labs that develops studies on covid-19 has been hacked. Forbes, which reported that hackers were displaying access to several of the institution’s systems, said the university confirmed the incident, but said it would have isolated the attack. She, however, told the publication that she could not comment further on the scale of the breach. The university said only that it had contacted the National Cyber Security Center (NCSC), which will now investigate the attack.
The incident was detected at the Structural Biology Division (known as “Strubi”), which has machines used to prepare biochemical samples. A source linked to the university said, on the condition of anonymity, that the problem was identified and contained. “Now we are investigating more deeply. But I add that there was no impact on any clinical research, as they are not carried out in the affected area. As is standard with these incidents, we have notified the National Cyber Security Center (NCSC) and are working with them, ”said the source.
NCSC confirmed that it had been informed of the incident. “We are aware that an incident affected the University of Oxford and we are working to fully understand its impact,” said a spokesman for the agency. The UK’s information and privacy regulator (ICO) said it was also informed. “We received a data breach report from the University of Oxford and will evaluate the information provided,” said a spokesman.
Forbes was warned of the breach by the chief technology officer of cybersecurity company Hold Security, Alex Holden, who provided screenshots of hackers’ access to Oxford University systems. He showed interfaces for what appeared to be laboratory equipment, with the ability to control pumps and pressure. There were also times and dates on Windows-based controls. The dates of the invasion are February 13th and 14th last February, indicating that the breach continued until recently.
The Oxford University spokesman confirmed that hacked machines are used to purify and prepare biochemical samples, such as proteins, that are made in the laboratory for research. These samples were used in research on the coronavirus, confirmed the spokesman. A breach of the laboratory could put research data at risk, including research on covid-19.
There is also the threat of research sabotage, if hackers are able to tamper with the flow of liquids or other aspects of purification technology. Holden said he was particularly concerned about the breach due to the hackers’ ability to disable a pressure alarm from the interface. “With news of cybercriminals tampering with water purity controls, other attacks on energy companies, this type of data in the hands of cybercriminals raises many concerns,” he said.