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The UK-based pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, has been targeted in cyberattacks by suspected North Korean hackers in the recent weeks, according to an exclusive report by Reuters.

The pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca has been working with the Oxford University to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. This news of cyberattacks comes soon after Oxford University and AstraZeneca reported the results of its recent large-scale COVID-19 vaccine trials. Their vaccine is reported to be 70% effective according to the trial data, but the researchers say that it can be as high as 90% with an increased dosage.

According to Reuters‘ unidentified sources, the hackers carried out the attack by masquerading as recruiters on LinkedIn and WhatsApp, and tried to approach AstraZeneca’s staff.

The hackers later sent documents with malware to the targets in order to gain unauthorized access to their systems. The targets are said to be a broad set of people, which also included members working on COVID-19 research. According to the report, the hacking attempts are thought to have been unsuccessful.

According to the report, the tools and techniques used in the cyberattacks on AstraZeneca suggest that the hackers are part of an on-going hacking campaign which U.S. officials and cybersecurity researchers have attributed to North Korea.

This cyberattack, however, is not the first of its kind to have carried out this year. The world has witnessed an incredible rise in the number of cyberattacks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Government websites and organizations aren’t the only ones being targeted anymore, as there has been a peculiar shift towards attacking healthcare and research organizations, including those who are working on developing COVID-19 vaccines.

Earlier this month, Microsoft revealed information on the cyberattacks which targeted healthcare and pharmaceutical organizations. Microsoft condemned such attacks and called on world leaders and nations, to help address the critical issue. The company identified three hacker groups, two of them were North Korean, and even suggested that the groups might be backed by their states.

North Korea has also been accused by the U.S of several cyber attacks such as the Sony Pictures hack, in which the hackers leaked confidential information, and the notorious Wannacry ransomware in 2017. Though, the country has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

The increase in the number of cyberattacks is worrying, especially the ones which target healthcare and research organizations. According to experts, the hackers can sell the stolen information or extort money from the targets, and it can also be unfairly used by the foreign governments to fight their battle against the COVID-19 virus.