Serial computer attacks against laboratories engaged in the search for a vaccine against Covid-19

Research on potential Covid-19 vaccines is in full swing and it has not escaped spies. Microsoft announced, Friday, November 13, have detected several attacks and attempted computer attacks targeting seven companies engaged in the global race for a vaccine that can hamper the pandemic which has already killed more than 1.3 million people.

Microsoft does not name the laboratories concerned, but specifies that they are among the targets “Leading pharmaceutical groups and research centers in Canada, France, India, South Korea and the United States. The majority of targets are laboratories “Who have vaccines for Covid-19 in clinical trials”, adds Microsoft. Most of the time, the attacks were foiled.

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The American company, which has made the fight against cyberattacks targeting the health sector one of its workhorses, says it has warned all the targeted companies. And accuses three groups of pirates as being responsible for these offensives: Strontium, Zinc and Cerium.

These groups are well known to experts: the first is also referred to by specialists by the nickname APT 28 or Fancy Bear. These hackers, whom the US justice claims belong to the Russian military intelligence service, are behind some of the most resounding cyber attacks in recent years, including against the 2016 US presidential election. The latter two, which some consider sometimes as a single group, have been known for several years by specialized companies who believe that these pirates are carrying out for the North Korean regime its dirty works of espionage, in particular its intelligence service.

Read our survey: Evidence of Russian interference in Macron’s campaign in 2017

If we are to believe Microsoft’s description of these attacks, they are extremely classic: for Russian hackers, it is a question of trying to penetrate the networks of their targets by testing as many combinations of identifiers as possible. and passwords. As for the North Koreans, they are phishing, or phishing, an old technique like computer hacking which consists in trapping its victims so that they provide the hacker, without wanting it and often by means of a fake site, his username and password.

Other organisms in the crosshairs

Who was targeted in France? The number of French laboratories involved in the search for a vaccine can be counted on the fingers of one hand. We asked the question, Monday, November 16, to Sanofi and the Institut Pasteur, the two French organizations that correspond to Microsoft’s description. Sanofi refused to react or answer our questions. The Institut Pasteur did not respond to our requests.

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