The U.S. government on Wednesday issued a warning to research organizations in the country that their data related to vaccine and treatments of the novel coronavirus may be targeted by hackers affiliated with the Chinese government.

China's efforts to target healthcare, pharmaceutical and research sectors "pose a significant threat to our nation's response to COVID-19," the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security said in the warning, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus.

No specific hacking cases were cited in the press release, but the FBI said it is "investigating the targeting and compromise" of U.S. organizations conducting the disease research by China-affiliated cyber actors and other collectors.

(File photo of FBI director Christopher Wray taken on Spet. 28, 2017)

"These actors have been observed attempting to identify and illicitly obtain valuable intellectual property and public health data related to vaccines, treatments, and testing from networks and personnel affiliated with COVID-19-related research," the press release said.

"The potential theft of this information jeopardizes the delivery of secure, effective, and efficient treatment options," it added.

The alert comes as the administration of President Donald Trump has increasingly criticized China, where the virus was first detected, for failing to stop the spread of the disease at its source.

As U.S. media reported about the alert in advance, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian has criticized Washington for targeting China with "rumors and slanders in the absence of any evidence."

"China is a staunch upholder of cybersecurity and a victim to cyberattacks. We firmly oppose and fight all kinds of cyberattacks conducted by hackers," he said Monday.

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