Oxford University COVID lab falls victim to hackers

The NCSC is investigating how hackers managed to access details for system controls used by the Strubi lab

Laboratory tests tubes

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) is investigating an attack on one of the world's top biology laboratories.  

An isolated incident was detected at Oxford University's Division of Structural Biology - often known as the "Strubi" lab - after access details for a number of its systems were spotted online.

The identities of the hackers have not been revealed and it is unclear what their ultimate goal was, but these facilities are involved in extensive COVID related research. The lab in question deals with basic science, rather than clinical research, but the systems accessed are thought to be machines that prepare biochemical samples for fundamental research. 

"We have identified and contained the problem and are now investigating further," a spokesperson for the University said. "There has been no impact on any clinical research, as this is not conducted in the affected area. As is standard with such incidents, we have notified the National Cyber Security Centre and are working with them." An NCSC spokesperson added that it was "aware" of the incident and that it was "working to fully understand its impact". 

Due to the research being conducted at Oxford's labs, there are concerns that nation-state hackers are attempting to either access information relating to COVID research or to tamper with its technology. 

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In the summer, there was an attack on Oxford's Jenner Insititute, which developed a vaccine in conjunction with AstraZeneca. The government suggested that it was 95% certain that Russia had attempted to steal its COVID vaccine following another NCSC investigation. 

This latest breach was spotted by Hold Security CTO Alex Holden, who provided screenshots to Forbes of the access details taken leaked by the hackers. The images showed interfaces for what is thought to be lab equipment, such as control pumps and pressure gages, and also times and dates for Windows-based controls. 

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