State Actors Attack COVID-19 Research Efforts, Microsoft Says

Nations-state actors continue to launch cyberattacks against seven prominent companies directly involved in researching vaccines and treatments for Covid-19, according to new research revealed by Microsoft.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, cybersecurity of companies involved in direct research for a potential vaccine and therapeutics has been affected repeatedly. In some cases, attackers found out who they infected with ransomware after the fact and provided decryption keys without asking for ransom. But nation-state actors have different goals, usually looking to steal research or even hamper development of vaccines.

“The targets include leading pharmaceutical companies and vaccine researchers in Canada, France, India, South Korea and the United States,” said Microsoft. “The attacks came from Strontium, an actor originating from Russia, and two actors originating from North Korea that we call Zinc and Cerium.”

These attackers mostly stick to phishing and brute-forcing credentials, targeting hospitals and even the World Health Organization. Recently, one cyberattacks in Germany resulted in the first known deaths because of the intrusion.

Microsoft is now calling for countries to unite against this threat. The company is trying to rally other participants into joining the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace.

“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,” Microsoft added.

Now, with the development and deployment of vaccines reaching the final stretch, protecting all the organizations involved in critical research and distribution will need more help than ever, but help of governments from all across the world is needed as well.

The COVID-19-related cyberattacks will not stop. If anything, as researchers’ work reaches the critical phase of distribution, the bad actors will likely increase their efforts, especially since phishing seems to be one of the main weapons.

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