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Hackers are targeting prominent COVID-19 vaccine and drug makers, warns Microsoft

The tech giant stated that pharma firms in countries like Canada, France, India, South Korea and the United States are the targets of cyber criminals. Three nation-state actors were behind the repeated attacks.

November 15, 2020 / 07:40 PM IST

Microsoft drew attention to a series of cyberattacks threatening to derail vital research into potential COVID-19 vaccines, sharing more details of the attacks and promising governments its aid to counter cyber terrorism.

"In recent months, we’ve detected cyberattacks from three nation-state actors targeting seven prominent companies directly involved in researching vaccines and treatments for COVID-19," Microsoft said in a blog post published on November 13.

The tech giant stated that pharma firms in countries like Canada, France, India, South Korea and the United States are the targets of cyber criminals. Microsoft identified that some of the cyberattacks originated from Russia's Strontium. The other two actors originated from North Korea's Zinc and Cerium.

Read: Days after Russian COVID-19 vaccine trial approval, data breach forces Dr Reddy's to shut plants

Among the targets have been several pharma companies in various stages of clinical trials for a COVID-19 testing, cure or vaccine.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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"One is a clinical research organisation involved in trials, and one has developed a COVID-19 test. Multiple organisations targeted have contracts with or investments from government agencies from various democratic countries for COVID-19 related work," the American firm added.

Microsoft also outlined the threats made by malignant actors in greater detail. Russia's Strontium used brute force attacks and password spray to try and gain access to accounts. North Korea's Zinc used spear-phishing lures on email addresses, trying to receive details after offering jobs, while compatriot Cerium posed as World Health Organization (WHO) members while using much the same method to gain credentials.

The Washington-based firm said that it had notified all the organisations which had been targetted and where the attacks had been successful.
Moneycontrol News
first published: Nov 15, 2020 06:45 pm

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