Microsoft: Foreign cyber hackers are targeting COVID-19 vaccine companies

REDMOND, Wash. — Several COVID-19 vaccine trials - one which began in Seattle with the first person in the U.S. ever to get the experimental shot - have been the prime target of foreign computer hackers from countries trying to steal the vaccine’s secret formula, and potentially disrupt the distribution, according to Microsoft, and cyber-security experts.

Microsoft said seven prominent but unnamed biotech companies testing vaccines were targeted in Canada, France, India, South Korea and the United States.

“The attacks came from Strontium, an actor originating from Russia, and two actors originating from North Korea that we call Zinc and Cerium,” according to a recent blog written by Tom Burt, Microsoft’s Vice President of Customer Security and Trust.

“Disinformation is continuing apace and it’s all about ‘don’t trust the vaccine,”’ said Mike Hamilton, President of Seattle’s CI Security, who explained the hackers goal is to intercept or disrupt the global race to have the first effective vaccine.

The country able to re-open their economy first would suddenly have an geopolitical advantage worth untold billions of dollars.

“It’s a strategic advantage by these countries in getting their populations vaccinated - and immune first - and making that (process) take a long time in the United States,” he said. “That could be a strategic reason for doing this. To make sure that we never get to that immunity.’'

Microsoft said Some of the hacks were successful,” but “the majority of the attacks were blocked by security protections built into our products.”

But Hamilton says while we all wait for a vaccine to reopen the country, the FDA’s process of safely testing and approving a vaccine’s formula is still trustworthy, and cannot be changed by hackers.

“The doubt raised because someone was trying to hack these guys doesn’t wash away all of the care that went into the preparation of that vaccine and all the safety controls that are there,” Hamilton said. “That’s what I want people to take away from this.”