Friday, Microsoft said it has detected attempts by state-backed Russian and North Korean hackers trying to steal data from health care organizations researching COVID-19 vaccines.
In recent months, Microsoft found cyberattacks from three nation-state actors targeting seven prominent researching vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. Vaccine researchers in the United States, Canada, France, India, and South Korea were among the targets.
Strontium, a Russian actor, and Zinc and Cerium, two actors originating from North Korea, were the three attackers found attempting to exfiltrate important research data.
Zinc primarily uses spear-phishing lures for credential theft, which sends messages with fabricated job descriptions pretending to be recruiters. Cerium attackers are posing as representatives of the World Health Organization. Strontium, on the other hand, uses password spray and brute force login attempts to steal login credentials.
The statement adds that the unnamed targets are in various stages of clinical trials.
The majority of these attacks were blocked by security protections built into Microsoft products. All organizations that were successfully breached were notified. The number of successful attacks and the severity of the breaches remain unknown.
Microsoft released the following:
“Today, Microsoft’s president Brad Smith is participating in the Paris Peace Forum where he will urge governments to do more. Microsoft is calling on the world’s leaders to affirm that international law protects health care facilities and to take action to enforce the law. We believe the law should be enforced not just when attacks originate from government agencies but also when they originate from criminal groups that governments enable to operate – or even facilitate – within their borders. This is criminal activity that cannot be tolerated.”
Cyberattacks on the health care sector and COVID-19 are not new, nor are they going away.
This week, there has been extra attention on developing COVID-19 vaccines. Pfizer announced Monday that preliminary data showed its vaccine to be 90% effective.