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U.S. cyber leaders say Chinese government-backed hackers are stealing crucial scientific data. An Israeli spyware vendor is caught up in a political scandal in Africa. And a Trend Micro researcher infiltrates a factory. This is CyberScoop for Wednesday, May 13.

Things have escalated

U.S. officials are pointing the finger at Chinese hackers for trying to steal valuable information on coronavirus treatments. “The FBI is investigating the targeting and compromise of U.S. organizations conducting COVID-19-related research by PRC-affiliated cyber actors and non-traditional collectors,” said the joint statement from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security. Beijing denies the allegations. It's only the latest example of the how the pandemic is having a ripple effect in cyberspace. Sean Lyngaas has the story.

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Government officials found guilty in Ghana

Three former government officials in Ghana have been sentenced to jail for purchasing spyware products from Israeli software surveillance company NSO Group. The case hinged on the argument that they had caused significant financial loss in the country over the $4 million purchase of NSO Group’s signature Pegasus spyware. The country’s former national security coordinator and two former bureaucrats at the country’s telecommunications authority were sentenced to between five and six years in prison. An NSO Group spokesperson told CyberScoop the sentences appear to have “had nothing to do with any alleged deed or action by NSO Group.” Shannon Vavra has more details.

What you can learn from hacking a factory

Malware has disrupted operations at multiple factories for years, but there’s still a risk that too many organizations view data breaches and cyber-espionage as isolated incidents. To prove that wrong, Trend Micro’s Federico Maggi systematically attacked factory equipment in a lab at Italy’s largest technical university. He hacked machinery used to drill holes in toy cell phones, and showed how a supply-chain attack could distort temperature readings. His goal was to help manufacturers address weaknesses in their defenses before actual attackers strike. Sean explains what happened.

Another $50 million for a SOC startup

The four-year-old security startup Expel announced today its raised $50 million in a Series D round, bringing total investment in the firm to nearly $117 million. The Herndon-based managed security service builds technology that sits between clients' other existing security products, with the goal of helping things run more efficiently. By using a combination of anomaly detection software and human analysts, Expel says it helps clients understand and remedy threats. This funding round was led by Capital G, Alphabet Inc.'s private equity firm, with participation from Battery Ventures, Greycroft and others. Here's the announcement.

Microsoft's latest Patch Tuesday

Microsoft's monthly batch of security updates includes 111 vulnerabilities, including 13 “critical” issues, 91 classified as “important,” three “moderate” bugs and four “low” priority. Hackers don’t appear to be exploiting any of the vulnerabilities, according to the advisory. Microsoft previously patched 113 vulnerabilities in its April Patch Tuesday update, and 115 issues in March. The latest release also includes no zero-day vulnerabilities, unlike prior examples. Jeff Stone breaks it down.

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