British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, one of the manufacturers leading the way towards developing a Covid-19 vaccine, has been targeted by North Korean hackers.
Reuters is reporting that the attempt involved the distribution of fake job offers that contained malicious code, with AstraZeneca staff, including some working directly on Covid-19 research, contacted by supposed recruiters via WhatsApp and LinkedIn with new career opportunities.
The messages were followed by documents detailing job descriptions that were found to contain malware that could have allowed the hackers to gain access to an employee’s device. It is not believed that any of the attempted hacks were successful.
North Korea has claimed that the reports are just another example of Western propaganda, efforts to smear the country’s political regime. However, the AstraZeneca campaign would not represent the first time that North Korea has been accused of attempting to disrupt the development of a coronavirus vaccine.
Earlier this month, Microsoft issued a warning that state-sponsored hacking groups from Russia and North Korea were targeting Covid-19 researchers with brute force login attempts and phishing campaigns. The computing giant argued that more needed to be done to protect healthcare facilities from cyberattacks.
Although state-sponsored attacks on coronavirus researchers have been foiled so far, it is unlikely that they will stop any time soon. Stolen information connected to the virus could give foreign governments a significant advantage or be sold for financial gain.
In addition to the attacks carried out by North Korea, hacks by Iran, China, and Russia on drugmakers and other health organizations have been reported. To add to the confusion, it has been reported that some of the email accounts used to send the fake job offers to AstraZeneca staff were registered to Russian email addresses.