Microsoft said it has found attempts to harvest sensitive data from leading pharmaceutical firms and vaccine experts by state-backed Russian and North Korean hackers.
It said Friday in a blog post that most of the attacks in recent months have been ineffective, but did not offer any details about how many have succeeded or how serious such violations have been.
Microsoft said that most of the targets, based in Canada, France, India, South Korea and the United States, were “directly interested in testing COVID-19 vaccines and therapies.” It did not identify the targets, but said that in separate phases of clinical trials, most had vaccine candidates.
One of the state-backed hacker groups was described by the company as Fancy Bear, the Russian military agents who were behind those infiltration attempts in July, the British National Cyber Security Center said. Two others were the Lazarus Community of North Korea and a group called Cerium by Microsoft.
Many of the break-in attempts included attempts to rob individuals affiliated with the targeted organisations’ login accounts. The Lazarus Party acted as career recruiters, Microsoft said, while Cerium targeted spear-phishing emails masquerading as missives from members of the World Health Organisation.
Since the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer revealed earlier this week that preliminary results showed its vaccine to be 90 percent effective, excitement regarding a COVID-19 vaccine has improved.