OTTAWA -- The research being conducted by health authorities across the country into COVID-19 faces an “elevated level of risk” for foreign-backed hacking or other malicious activity, say Canada’s central intelligence agencies.

In a lengthy and rare joint statement, The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) say the ongoing pandemic “presents an elevated level of risk to the cyber security of Canadian health organizations involved in the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The agencies say that they are already seeing an increased risk of foreign interference and espionage related to the work being done by Canadian researchers, and to the intellectual property and proprietary information of Canadian companies who are focused on combatting COVID-19.

While they would not comment on specific operations, or which foreign actors pose a concern “it is near certain that state sponsored actors have shifted their focus during the pandemic.”

The two intelligence bodies say that Canadian intellectual property “represents a valuable target.”

“This uncertain environment is ripe for exploitation by threat actors seeking to advance their own interests,” reads the statement, which goes on to state that the bulk of the malicious threat activity observed during pandemic has been criminal in nature such as phishing campaigns.

Both agencies say that they are “tirelessly” working to mitigate threats and have been reaching out to health organizations with tailored advice and guidance about the risks and prevention measures that can be taken such as increasing monitoring of network logs, reminding employees to be weary of suspicious emails, securing any telework practices, and ensuring critical servers are not vulnerable to cyber meddling.

Over the last two months, the federal government has committed more than $1 billion towards a national medical and research strategy to combat the novel coronavirus that will see labs across the country expand their capacity to study the virus, possible treatments or vaccines, and its spread among the population.

The funding has millions of dollars for developing and producing vaccines and treatments in Canada, supporting similar work in other nations, as well as studying immunity and serology testing.