Hackers in Russia and North Korea are attacking some of the key companies and research facilities trying to develop and test vaccines against COVID-19, Microsoft said on Friday. The attacks could result in delayed development of these desperately needed vaccines or in the theft of vaccine-related data.
One North Korean group has been sending emails to medical researchers and their colleagues, pretending to be from the World Health Organization and inquiring about COVID-19 progress, the software giant noted. Another North Korean effort involves their sending emails posing as recruiters with fake job offers. The Russian group simply tried to brute force its way into medical companies’ network by rapidly trying millions of combinations of log-ins and passwords.
The “majority” of the attacks have been blocked, but some have been successful, Microsoft said without providing further details.
“It’s disturbing that these challenges have now merged as cyberattacks being used to disrupt health care organizations fighting the pandemic,” Tom Burt, vice president for customer security at Microsoft, said in a statement. “We think these attacks are unconscionable and should be condemned by all civilized society. Today, we’re sharing more about the attacks we’ve seen most recently and are urging governments to act.”
The latest report of cyberattacks against the pandemic response follows earlier reports that health care and research facilities in the U.S., France, Spain, Thailand, and other countries have been victimized by hackers. Some facilities succumbed to ransomware that locked up data. Others had their networks crash or saw data stolen. Two months ago, a woman in Düsseldorf, Germany, died after delays in treatment owing in part to a cyberattack on the hospital where she was being taken. In May, the International Red Cross and representatives of other groups called for “the world’s governments to take immediate and decisive action to prevent and stop cyberattacks” against the health sector.
Microsoft wants governments to escalate their response to the attacks even when the hacker groups are not officially part of another government.
“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,” Burt said. “This is criminal activity that cannot be tolerated.”
More must-read tech coverage from Fortune:
- Conservative social media site Parler shoots to the top of the download charts postelection
- Here’s how President-elect Biden plans to tackle online abuse
- What’s in a name? For Tesla’s Full Self Driving, it may be danger
- “Technology is the new toilet paper” for seniors facing the pandemic
- The Facebook ad boycott ended months ago. But some big companies continue the fight