FBI Director Christopher Wray in February. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued a joint alert on Wednesday warning that actors affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party are targeting U.S. institutions for data and intellectual property related to coronavirus research.

Why it matters: The FBI said it is investigating potential data breaches and warned that research theft may jeopardize "the delivery of secure, effective, and efficient treatment options" for the coronavirus.

The FBI and CISA recommended that research institutions "patch all systems for critical vulnerabilities, prioritizing timely patching for known vulnerabilities of internet-connected servers and software processing internet data."

  • The agencies pressed institutions to scan for unauthorized access, modification or anomalous activities and to improve internal credential requirements to gain access to research.
  • They also cautioned that increased media attention about virus research done by a specific organization will lead to increased "cyber activity."

The big picture: Attempts by the Chinese government to steal intellectual property are not new. Cybersecurity experts and U.S. officials said last year that Chinese hackers targeted more than two dozen universities to steal information about maritime technology developed for military use, the Wall Street Journal reports.

  • Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian claimed this week that China opposed cyberattacks of all forms, stating: "It is immoral for anyone to engage in rumor-mongering without presenting any evidence.

The bottom line: The warning from the FBI and CISA comes amid escalating tensions between the U.S. and China, as Beijing has reportedly been stalling international efforts to investigate the origins of the coronavirus, according to the WSJ.

Go deeper: As the U.S. and China fight, their scientists collaborate

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