Cyberattacks by the hackers originating in North Korea and Russia have targeted companies researching COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, Microsoft said in a new blog post.
The company said the attacks aimed at seven leading pharmaceutical companies and researchers in the US, Canada, France, India, and South Korea.
“Among the targets, the majority are vaccine makers that have COVID-19 vaccines in various stages of clinical trials,” according to a blog post by Tom Burt, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for safety and customer trust.
Microsoft did not name the company or provide details about what information it may have stolen or compromised but said it had alerted the organization and offered assistance if the attack was successful.
According to Microsoft, the majority of attacks are blocked by its security protections.
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The hackers use a variety of methods to carry out attacks, according to the blog post, including brute force login attempts to steal login credentials, as well as spear-phishing attacks in which hackers impersonate recruiters looking for job candidates and as representatives of the World Health Organization.
“It’s disturbing that these challenges have now merged as cyberattacks are being used to disrupt health care organizations fighting the pandemic,” Tom Burt wrote. “We think these attacks are unconscionable and should be condemned by all civilized society.”
Cases of the new coronavirus are on the rise across the US and other parts of the world, but there are some promising signs in vaccine development. Pfizer and BioNTech announced that their vaccine is 90 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 symptoms in clinical trials. That preliminary data hasn’t been examined by independent researchers yet, but experts called the news “extremely encouraging.” And the vaccine candidate from Moderna is expected to release preliminary data soon.