Microsoft: Hackers targeting COVID-19 research labs

Hackers are reportedly targeting COVID-19 research labs.

Researchers around the world are working tirelessly to try and find effective vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. However, some people just want to watch things burn. Microsoft reported on Friday that hackers from North Korea and Russia are targeting COVID-19 research labs with cyberattacks.

What they hope to gain from the attacks remains unclear. However, the motivation is likely financial or political in nature. Regardless, attacks that slow down the world’s best hope of escaping the misery of the current pandemic are unacceptable.

Microsoft released details about the cyberattacks as part of a plea urging governments to step in and do something to address the growing problem.

The Worst Timing

The number of COVID-19 infections and deaths continues to rise around the globe as second and third waves of the virus wreak havoc. Unfortunately, there is still no approved vaccine.

Some good news arrived earlier in the week when Pfizer announced that its COVID-19 vaccine is supposedly 90 percent effective. However, the world is still months away from a vaccine being approved and distributed widely enough to make a difference.

In the meantime, the number of cyberattacks around the world has also continued to grow. The Burn-In reported in late October that a cybercrime syndicate is targeting healthcare facilities in the United States. Moreover, hackers and scammers are targeting everyday consumers in more ways than ever, preying on virus-related fears in the process.

Microsoft’s Tom Burt, vice president of customer security and trust, detailed what the new rash of hacks looks like. Although the report didn’t reveal which vaccine researchers were targeted, it did provide some clues.

Burt says, “Among the targets, the majority are vaccine makers that have COVID-19 vaccines in various stages of clinical trials, clinical research organizations involved in trials, and one has developed a COVID-19 test.”

He adds, “Multiple organizations targeted have contracts with or investments from government agencies from various democratic countries for Covid-19 related work.”

Most of the cyberattacks coming from Russian hackers are reportedly brute-force attacks. The efforts of North Korean hackers are more targeted and are being sent via email to various researchers and employees. Burt notes that the malicious emails appear to be coming from the World Health Organization or job recruiters.

Fortunately, most of the cyberattacks carried out so far have been stopped. That doesn’t mean one couldn’t slip through the cracks and cause a major disruption in the future.

Divided Not United

It is baffling that the world can’t come together to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, that is the reality we are currently facing. As society pins its hopes on a successful vaccine, world leaders will need to start taking cybersecurity more seriously.

Burt says, “At a time when the world is united in wanting an end to the pandemic and anxiously awaiting the development of a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19, it is essential for world leaders to unite around the security of our health care institutions and enforce the law against cyberattacks targeting those who endeavor to help us all.”

Indeed, it is more crucial than ever for private companies and government authorities alike to unite and confront this problem. The last thing the world needs is hackers disrupting vaccine research and slowing it down even further.


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