Reuters reported on Friday, citing two well-informed sources, that North Korean hackers were suspected of trying to penetrate the systems of British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca in recent weeks, as the company races to time to publish its vaccine against the virus Covid-19.
The sources said: The hackers impersonated recruits on LinkedIn and WhatsApp to contact AstraZeneca employees with fake job offers. Then they sent documents – allegedly a job description – that incorporated malware designed to gain access to the victim’s computer.
One of the sources said: The piracy attempts targeted a “wide range of people”, and this included employees working on Covid-19 research, but it is not believed to have succeeded in achieving what it wanted.
The sources – who spoke on condition of anonymity: The tools and techniques used in the attacks showed that they are part of an ongoing hacking campaign attributed by US officials and researchers in the field of electronic security to North Korea.
The campaign previously focused on defense companies and media organizations, but has focused on targets related to COVID-19 in recent weeks, according to three people who investigated the attacks.
Cyber attacks against health agencies, vaccine scientists and pharmaceutical companies have spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic, as government-backed criminal hacking groups scramble for the latest research and information on the outbreak.
Western officials say it could sell any stolen information for profit, be used to extort victims, or give foreign governments a valuable strategic advantage as they struggle to contain a disease that has killed 1.4 million people worldwide.
Microsoft said earlier this month that it had seen two groups of North Korean hacking groups targeting vaccine developers in multiple countries, and relied on “sending messages with fabricated job descriptions.” Microsoft did not name any of the targeted organizations.
Reuters reported earlier that hackers from Iran, China, and Russia tried to penetrate leading pharmaceutical companies, and even the World Health Organization, during the current year. Tehran, Beijing and Moscow have denied the allegations.
US prosecutors have blamed North Korea for some of the most daring and damaging cyber attacks in the world, including: hacking emails from Sony Pictures and leaking them in 2014, stealing $ 81 million from the central bank in Bangladesh in 2016, and unleashing the ransomware. WannaCry in 2017.
Pyongyang described the allegations as part of Washington’s attempts to tarnish its image.