REUTERS: Oxford University said on Thursday it was investigating a cyber attack but that research was unaffected, following media reports that one of its biology laboratories researching COVID-19 had been hacked.
The breach took place in mid-February and occurred at the Division of Structural Biology, known as Strubi, which has been carrying out research into COVID-19, according to Forbes and The Telegraph.
Strubi is distinct from the Jenner Institute, which develops the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine in partnership with AstraZeneca.
Oxford University confirmed there had been a hack in an emailed statement to Reuters and said it was investigating.
"We have identified and contained the problem and are now investigating further. There has been no impact on any clinical research, as this is not conducted in the affected area," an Oxford spokesman said, adding that the university was working with the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) on the incident.
It did not name the facility affected.
The Telegraph newspaper quoted security sources as saying it was unclear who was behind the attack and that they could not rule out a hostile foreign state.
NCSC, the cyber security arm of spy agency GCHQ, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Digital espionage targeting health bodies, vaccine scientists and drugmakers has surged during the COVID-19 pandemic as state-backed hacking groups scramble to secure the latest research and information about the outbreak.
In December, U.S. drugmaker Pfizer Inc and its German partner BioNTech SE disclosed that documents related to development of their COVID-19 vaccine had been "unlawfully accessed" in a cyberattack on Europe's medicines regulator.
(Reporting by Bhargav Acharya and Derek Francis in Bengaluru; Editing by Catherine Evans and Rosalba O'Brien)