Microsoft detects COVID-19 vaccine hacking attempts from Russia, North Korea

Microsoft has discovered attempts by Russian and North Korean state hackers to steal valuable data from leading pharmaceutical companies and vaccine researchers.

It said in one blog entry Friday that most of the attacks in the past few months have been unsuccessful but did not provide any information about how many were successful or how serious these violations were.

Chinese government-sponsored hackers have also turned against vaccine manufacturers, the US government said in July when it announced criminal charges.

Microsoft said most of the destinations – in Canada, France, India, South Korea and the United States – are “directly involved in research into vaccines and treatments for COVID-19”. The goals were not stated, but most had vaccine candidates at various stages of clinical trials.

The company identified one of the state-backed hacking groups as Fancy Bear, the Russian military agents whom the UK’s National Cyber ​​Security Center said in July were behind such break-in attempts. Two others were the North Korean Lazarus Group and a group that Microsoft calls Cerium.

Most break-in efforts have involved attempts to steal credentials from people associated with the target organizations. The Lazarus group posed as a recruiter, while Cerium targeted spear phishing emails masquerading as missives from World Health Organization officials, Microsoft said.

The blog post coincided with an appearance by Microsoft President Brad Smith at an international forum calling on nations to protect healthcare facilities from cyberattacks. This year the Paris Peace Forum will take place online.

Optimism about a COVID-19 vaccine has increased since pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced earlier this week that preliminary data showed its vaccine was 90 percent effective.

At the same time, the number of coronaviruses is increasing. In the United States, daily deaths have increased more than 40 percent in the past two weeks to an average of more than 1,100, the highest level in three months.


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