Gilead Sciences in Foster City, Calif. (AP/Eric Risberg) (AP/Eric Risberg)
Gilead Sciences

Hackers linked to Iran targeted the U.S. pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences recently trying to gain access to the company working on cures for the COVID-19 virus.

By Yakir Benzion

Hackers linked to Iran tried to gain illegal access to Gilead Sciences, an American pharmaceutical company known to be developing cures for the coronavirus, Reuters reported Friday.

The report said hackers tried to get Gilead employees to hand over account passwords by posing as journalists, but there were no indications the hackers were successful.

Last week the Food and Drug Administration approved the emergency use of the new drug remdesivir that is produced by Gilead to treat those suffering from coronavirus. The antiviral drug has been found to shorten the recovery time of coronavirus patients.

According to World Health Organization statistics Iran currently has 104,691 confirmed cases with 6,541 deaths reported.

An official for Gilead refused to comment, saying the company does not comment on “information security measures,” The Hill reported.

“The Iranian government does not engage in cyber warfare,” Iranian UN mission spokesman Alireza Miryousefi told Reuters. Miryousefi said the “cyber activities Iran engages in are purely defensive and to protect against further attacks on Iranian infrastructure.”

However, experts at the Israeli cybersecurity firm ClearSky, which tracks Iranian hacking activity, confirmed that the web domains and hosting servers used in the hacking attempts were linked to Iran.

In recent weeks hackers with links to Iran and other groups have also attempted to break into the World Health Organization, the report said. The U.S. and Britain both warned that state-backed hackers are attacking pharmaceutical companies and research institutions working on treatments for the new disease.

The tactics to try and obtain Gilead email accounts was previously used by a group of suspected Iranian hackers known as “Charming Kitten,” American cyber security expert Priscilla Moriuchi told Reuters.

“Access to even just the email of staff at a cutting-edge Western pharmaceutical company could give … the Iranian government an advantage in developing treatments and countering the disease,” Moriuchi said.

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