Pfizer Attack Carried Out By North Korean Hackers

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North Korean hackers have attempted to steal valuable Covid-19 vaccine information from Pfizer, warns South Korean intelligence

The issue of safeguarding vaccine data has once again been raised after intelligence officials in South Korea warned of an attempted attack.

They said that North Korea hackers attempted to steal Covid-19 vaccine technology from Pfizer, but it is unclear if the attack was successful or indeed if they obtained any data.

It comes after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) was hacked in December, and valuable documentation concerning the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine was apparently stolen.

north korea

North Korean attack

But this latest attack seems to be a separate incident, according to a report by local news agency Yonhap.

The report said the National Intelligence Service (NIS) of South Korea had unveiled the attempted theft during a closed-door session of the National Assembly’s intelligence committee.

North Korea officially has no Coronavirus cases, but its borders remain closed. The country is reportedly going to be receiving 2 million dozes of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.

And it should be remembered that it is no secret that hackers have been seeking data on the three leading Covid-19 vaccines for some time now.

Indeed, intelligence services have been warning the attacks likely stem from nation state hackers.

Desirable target

And security experts have warned the data is hugely valuable.

“The Covid-19 vaccine is currently one of the most desired assets on the planet, so it is not surprising it is considered a cyber attack target,” noted George Daglas, COO at Obrela Security Industries.

“Pharmaceutical companies must take the necessary steps to protect not only their Intellectual Property but more importantly the vaccine production safety and their vaccine supply chain by enforcing rigorous cyber and physical security controls in every step of the production-supply lifecycle,” said Daglas.

“It is also important for pharmaceutical companies to foster a security aware culture amongst their staff, to effectively reduce the attackers’ likelihood of success when targeting staff as an entry point in the organisation,” he concluded.

Not a normal country

Another security expert noted that North Korea has well documented history of cyberattacks and is ‘not a normal country.’

“Nation state hacking is nothing new, and is something North Korea has a history of; in the past few years alone, North Korea has been held responsible for a number of cyber-attacks causing disruption and financial losses on an unprecedented scale,” said Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at F-Secure.

““We have to remember that North Korea is not a normal country,” said Hypponen. “No other country in recent history has resorted to printing fake US dollars. No other country deploys ransomware to blackmail bitcoins from their victims.”

“No other country hacks international banking networks in order to steal money,” said Hypponen. “In that line of thinking, it wouldn’t be surprising for them to try to hack vaccine data either.”

Vaccine attacks

During the past year, cyberattacks against vaccine specialists, healthcare, and drugmakers have risen, as state-backed and criminal hacking groups sought to obtain vital data from rival nations.

It was reported that suspected North Korean hackers had tried to break into the systems of British drugmaker AstraZeneca.

UK and US intelligence officials have previously warned that hackers were attempting to breach the cyber defences of vaccine makers.

In July 2020, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) issued formal charges against two Chinese nationals, accused of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of trade secrets and intellectual property.

The two Chinese nationals were also accused of targeting researchers developing a vaccine for the coronavirus.

Also in July 2020, both UK and US intelligence agencies warned that Russian hacking group APT29 (also known as Cozy Bear) was actively targeting researchers developing a Covid-19 vaccine.

Stolen vaccine data can be sold for a healthy profit, western officials have warned, or used to extort vaccine makers, or provide valuable intelligence for foreign governments.

And IBM warned that the cold storage supply chain used to transport viable vaccines had come under cyber-attack – probably by a nation state.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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