North Korean and Russian Hackers Are Targeting Covid-19 Vaccine Researchers, According To Microsoft
State-sponsored hackers from Russia and North Korea have been targeting researchers working on Covid-19 vaccines, Microsoft has claimed.
Security researchers from the tech giant say that they have so far prevented several of the cyberattacks, but acknowledged some have been successful. Microsoft has appealed to the international community to work together to put an end to the attacks.
In a blog post published Friday, Microsoft said that the well-known Russian hacking group ‘Fancy Bear’, along with two North Korean groups, were involved in attempts to access the accounts of vaccine researchers. The company did not specify who was targeted, but confirmed that the majority of the organisations were in the process of running clinical trials for Covid-19 vaccines.
The company said that while Fancy Bear primarily relied on ‘brute force’ tactics like using a bot to try various login combinations, the North Korean hackers tended to use more sophisticated email phishing campaigns, often posing as officials from the World Health Organisation.
Microsoft VP Tom Burt wrote:
Two global issues will help shape people’s memories of this time in history – Covid-19 and the increased use of the internet by malign actors to disrupt society. It’s disturbing that these challenges have now merged as cyberattacks are being used to disrupt health care organizations fighting the pandemic. We think these attacks are unconscionable and should be condemned by all civilized society.
This isn’t the first time accusations like this have been made. Earlier this year, the United States, UK and Canada directly called out Russia for trying to destabilise vaccine research. For several years now, it has been alleged that both the Russian and North Korean military have directly approved large-scale hacking operations, but these new attacks are seen as a dangerous new escalation at a time when other countries are trying to work together to halt the spread of the virus.
The warning also comes two weeks after the US government said that Russian hackers were targeting hospitals with ransomware, potentially putting the lives of thousands of patients at risk. Both countries have denied the accusations.
Microsoft is part of a global group campaigning for a new set of international rules to curb the growing trend, and has called on world leaders to ‘affirm that international law protects health care facilities and to take action to enforce the law’.
The hunt for a vaccine has been ramping up over the past few months, and US pharmaceutical company Pfizer last week announced its vaccine had obtained a 90% success rate in clinical trials, with a number of other vaccines believed to be following close behind.
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