Russian and North Korean hackers have tried to attack pharmaceutical firms that are racing to develop coronavirus vaccines, Microsoft said Friday. The tech giant said it has detected cyberattacks in
Russian and North Korean hackers have tried to attack pharmaceutical firms that are racing to develop coronavirus vaccines, Microsoft said Friday.
The tech giant said it has detected cyberattacks in recent months against seven major companies that are “directly involved” in researching vaccines and treatments for the deadly COVID-19 bug.
Microsoft has traced the hacks to a Russian group called “Strontium,” also known as “Fancy Bear,” and two outfits in North Korea that the company calls “Zinc” and “Cerium.” They targeted firms and research organizations in the US, Canada, India, South Korea, most of which have coronavirus vaccines in “various stages of clinical trials,” according to the company.
“The majority of these attacks were blocked by security protections built into our products,” Tom Burt, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of customer security and trust, said in a blog post. “We’ve notified all organizations targeted, and where attacks have been successful, we’ve offered help.”
But Microsoft didn’t reveal how many of the cyberattacks had succeeded or what kind of data breaches they had caused. It also didn’t identify any of the targets by name, though Burt said many of them have received government investments or contracts for coronavirus-related work.
Microsoft said the Fancy Bear hackers attempted to break into people’s accounts by trying to log in thousands or millions of times. Both of the North Korean groups have used “spear-phishing” tactics, according to the company — Zinc sent messages containing bogus job descriptions, while Cerium posed as World Health Organization representatives in emails.
The hacking revelations come at a key time in the global race for a coronavirus vaccine, with American drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna on track to potentially seek emergency approvals for their shots in the US by the end of this month.
In July, British cybersecurity officials said another group of Russian hackers known as “Cozy Bear” was also targeting organizations involved in coronavirus vaccine development.
The Russian embassy in Washington has disputed allegations of the country’s involvement in digital espionage. North Korean officials have also previously denied carrying out hacking in other countries.
With Post wires