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First look: McCarthy bill would sanction virus vaccine hackers

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy will introduce a bill Tuesday that would sanction foreign hackers attempting to steal U.S. research into coronavirus vaccine development, according to a copy of the bill obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The Defend COVID Research from Hackers Act comes after China, Iran and Russia have been accused of deploying military and intelligence hackers to steal information about other countries' vaccine research and development.


  • It also comes as the global race to develop a coronavirus vaccine is escalating, with the U.K. announcing today that a vaccine from Oxford University and AstraZeneca is showing promising results.
  • House Republicans, led by McCarthy, plan to push for this bill's approval in upcoming negotiations over the next round of coronavirus relief funding.

Details: The bill authorizes the president to impose sanctions on any foreign person that engages in cyber-related activity that threatens the United States' national security or economic health, according to McCarthy's office.

  • It also gives the president the power to block the property of such foreign actors and ban them from traveling to the U.S.
  • The legislation would require the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, to submit a report to Congress — no later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of the bill — detailing the extent of known foreign cyber activities related to the coronavirus, and whether such activities qualify for new sanctions.
  • It also gives federal law enforcement more authority to take action against bots, per a recommendation from the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, which estimated that "as much as 30 percent of all internet traffic could be attributable to botnets, and most of that traffic is from DDoS attacks," his office said.

What McCarthy's saying: “We have seen that other nations — like China — use this virus to exploit other countries for political advantages. We refuse to allow our innovation to be exploited by China, Russia, or any other hackers."

  • "We are going to protect the cure from falling into the wrong hands so that no one can use it as leverage for their own malicious ends. The stakes are too high for these significant cyber crimes to go unpunished," McCarthy said in a statement to Axios.

Read the bill.

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