Oct 6 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C.  U.S. Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) recently introduced the Defend COVID Research from Hackers Act, legislation that would give the President the authority to sanction foreign nations that threaten public health and national security by attempting to steal American research on COVID-19.

Over the last few months, there have been multiple public notices about hackers affiliated with foreign nation states, including ChinaIran and Russia, attempting to steal American intellectual property. Specifically, these hackers and foreign governments are targeting COVID-19 related intellectual property including treatments and vaccines. The research being done by American research universities and biopharmaceutical companies is essential to our recovery from this pandemic and any attempt to steal relevant intellectual property or corrupt data is a threat to our national security. The Defend COVID Research from Hackers Act gives the President additional tools to deter our adversaries from stealing our intellectual property by authorizing the President to take swift action and add sanctions to countries trying to disrupt or hack COVID-19 research.

“Since work began to find a COVID-19 vaccine, hackers affiliated with foreign nations have worked to steal research from American companies and research institutions,” said Senator Tillis. “These attempts to steal American intellectual property related to COVID-19 is a threat to our national security and economic health. Congress must give the President the tools to combat these bad actors, and this legislation will allow the Administration to identify and target those who work to steal research on a COVID-19 vaccine.”

“The integrity of our COVID-19 vaccine research is of the utmost importance to our national security,” said Senator Blackburn. “Countries like China, Russia and Iran have proven themselves untrustworthy when it comes to collaborating on research efforts, and have opted instead to hack into American vaccine operations. It is essential that we take active steps to protect our public health from these bad actors.”

Specifically, the Defend COVID Research from Hackers Act:

  • Authorizes sanctions that would specifically target a foreign person who directly or indirectly attempted to disrupt or hurt the United States through cybersecurity actions on networks. This includes individuals who were directed by foreign leaders to cause a cyber-attack.
  • Gives the President authority to prohibit all property transactions by the foreign individual, including property coming into the United States or already in the United States, but excludes goods. 
  • Allows the President to prohibit individuals engaging in cyber-attacks from traveling to the United States or revoke the individual’s visa if they are in the country.
  • Within 180 days, the Secretary of State in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence will be required to issue a report to Congress detailing the extent of known cyber-enabled activities or attempted cyber-enabled activities by foreign persons related to the 2019 novel coronavirus and whether such activities qualify for the imposition of sanctions

This bill is the Senate companion to legislation introduced in the House of Representatives by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

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