COVID-19 vaccine developers targeted by hackers from Russia, North Korea: Microsoft

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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Global tech giant Microsoft has detected attempts to steal valuable data from leading pharmaceutical firms and vaccine researchers by state-backed Russian and North Korean hackers.

The company posted in its blog that most of the attacks that happened in the recent months were ineffective but did not provide any details about how many have succeeded or how severe these attacks have been.

The US government recently said that vaccine-makers have also been attacked by Chinese state-backed hackers. This statement was made while announcing the criminal charges.

Microsoft said the attacks took place in recent months, targeting “leading pharmaceutical companies and vaccine researchers in Canada, France, India, South Korea and the United States.”

“Among the targets, the majority are vaccine makers that have COVID-19 vaccines in various stages of clinical trials. One is a clinical research organization involved in trials, and one has developed a COVID-19 test,” wrote Tom Burt, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of customer security and trust.

The company identified that one of the state-backed hacker group is the Russian organization Strontium, popularly known as Fancy Bear. Two others were North Korea’s Lazarus Group and a group Microsoft calls Cerium. Most of the break-in attempts included efforts to steal the login credentials of individuals associated with the targeted organizations.

Microsoft said, “The Lazarus Group posed as job recruiters while Cerium targeted spear-phishing emails that masqueraded as missives (official letters) from World Health Organization representatives.”

The blog post comes after Microsoft President Brad Smith appeared at an international forum calling on countries to protect their health care facilities from cyber attacks.

The optimism about a COVID-19 vaccine has increased since the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer revealed that preliminary data showed its vaccine to be 90 percent effective.