Tech giant Microsoft has announced that it has recently detected attempts by state-backed North Korean and Russian hackers to steal data from several pharmaceutical companies who are working on a COVID-19 vaccine.

In the statement, Microsoft said that North Korean groups known as "Cerium" and "Zinc" and Russian group "Fancy Bear" were involved in the said cyber attacks.

Russia has already denied its involvement in the alleged hacking after the National Cyber Security Center (NCSC) of the United Kingdom has previously called out attempts by hackers backed by Moscow to target the research concerning the vaccine.

In a blog, Microsoft revealed that a cybersecurity software that it was developing found the said groups trying to break into the computer system of seven pharmaceutical companies leading in vaccine development, Daily Mail reported.

Moreover, Microsoft stated that the targets were vaccine developers and researchers from France, India, Canada, South Korea, and the U.S.

In addition, Microsoft stated that "brute force" tactics have been used by the Russian group as they tried to log in to the accounts using millions of different passwords.

Meanwhile, one of the North Korean groups posed as officials of the World Health Organization and sent emails that tried to trick people into giving them their account credentials.

Despite some of the break-in attempt failing, Microsoft has issued a warning that some became successful.

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According to BBC, Russia has insisted that it was not involved in any attempt to steal vaccine data. In a statement, the Russian embassy in Washington stated that they have nothing more to say other than denying their involvement.

At the moment, North Korea has yet to give its statement and comments regarding the alleged hackings.

In light of the incident, Microsoft issued a statement calling on world leaders to follow the international law which protects healthcare facilities and to take action in enforcing the law.

Amid the race to find a vaccine for COVID-19, this is not the first time the said states have been accused of targetting the vaccine development. Back in July, the U.K. also accused Russian intelligence of going after the U.K. vaccine research, including the vaccine being developed by Oxford University.

Moreover, China has also been accused by the U.S. of the same thing, Business Insider reported.

All the accusations of vaccine stealing are part of the race to develop a vaccine that is the key to ending the COVID-19 pandemic. Being first in developing vaccines have several benefits for countries, including social, health, and economic benefits.

The blog comes after Brad Smith, Microsoft's president, advised nations to guard their healthcare facilities against cyber-attacks during an international forum. 

The optimism that a COVID-19 vaccine will soon be available comes after Pfizer announced that its preliminary data showed that the test vaccine is already 90 percent effective.

At the moment, COVID-19 continues to plague countries as cases surge. In the U.S., the number of deaths per day has increased, and the number of new cases per day.

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