A group of North Korean hackers has tried to penetrate the systems of the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, involved in the global race to develop the most effective vaccine against COVID-19, two anonymous sources close to this matter told Reuters in an exclusive interview.
According to the sources, cybercriminals posed as recruiters on the social network LinkedIn and on the instant messaging application WhatsApp to get closer to company staff. Upon making contact, they sent him false job offers that contained malicious code and that helped them access the victim’s computer.
This hacking method was used against a large group of people, including employees who are investigating the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2. However, it is believed that all these crimes have not had the expected effect, reported one of the agency’s interlocutors.
While US officials attribute these attacks to a hacking campaign launched by North Korea, Pyongyang has repeatedly rejected these accusations. North Korean authorities say that their country does not have a direct line of contact abroad.
Despite this argument, some experts in Western countries point out that previously North Korea’s hacking campaigns had focused on defense companies and media organizations, but recently they began to challenge companies specializing in the investigation of the COVID-19.
Cyberattacks perpetrated against healthcare agencies, scientists involved in vaccine development and drug manufacturers have exploded during the spread of the pandemic. Hackers hired by states and those who are acting illegally have put all their meat on the spit to learn any kind of information about the latest research on the virus and the outbreak.
Officials in Western countries say the stolen data could be sold for profit, used to extort money from victims or give foreign governments a valuable strategic advantage in the fight to contain the disease.
In November, the tech giant Microsoft reported detecting two North Korean hacker groups trying to challenge vaccine developers in multiple countries, although it did not mention either of these organizations by name. In turn, South Korean lawmakers reported on November 27 that their country’s intelligence agency had managed to thwart some of these hacks.
This is not the first time that US prosecutors have accused North Korea of perpetrating the most audacious and damaging cyberattacks in world history. They also blamed North Korean hackers for the 2014 Sony Pictures film company email leaks, the theft of $ 81 million from the Bangladesh central bank in 2016, and the spread of the WannaCry virus in 2017.
Pyongyang has always rejected all these accusations.