North Korea tried to hack Pfizer vaccine data, reports say

A report Tuesday from South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency on Tuesday alleged that the regime of Kim Jong Un had tried to tap into the servers of a local drugmaker to obtain data on the Pfizer vaccine.

WHY IT MATTERS
The charge from South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, reportedly relayed to Seoul lawmakers in a closed-door session, wouldn’t be the first time North Korea was accused of cyber meddling in the search for COVID-19 vaccine data.

At the moment, intelligence officials appear uncertain as to the scope of the cyber incursion and how much data might have been accessed if any.

While isolated and highly-secretive North Korea hasn’t reported a single case of COVID-19, the hermit kingdom is nonetheless scheduled to receive 2 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine from the World Health Organization’s COVAX program in the next few months, according to BBC.

THE LARGER TREND
This isn’t the first time North Korea has been accused of hacking systems around the world to obtain vaccine data. This past November, Microsoft pointed the finger at “two actors originating from North Korea that we call Zinc and Cerium” that it alleged were “targeting seven prominent companies directly involved in researching vaccines and treatments for COVID-19.”

Many security observers believe that the cash-strapped nation, which is said to have armies of trained hackers, might be as interested in selling vaccine data on the black market as in developing therapeutic doses for its own people.

Since the first COVID-19 vaccines were first rolled out, there has been intense global concern about how hackers and other bad actors, nation-state and otherwise, might attempt to intrude upon or disrupt the development process.

This past December, IBM X-Force published a report that hackers were taking aim at the vaccines’ “cold chain” supply lines, in what it described as a worldwide spear phishing effort that had “potential hallmarks of nation-state tradecraft.”

Phishing emails had been sent to vaccine and supply chain organizations in South Korea and other nations, the report said.

And in January, the European Medicines Agency reported that some data related to the Pfizer vaccine, stolen during a cyber attack the previous month, had been posted online.

ON THE RECORD
“There were attempts to steal COVID vaccine and treatment technology during cyber attacks and Pfizer was hacked,” said Ha Tae-keung, a member of South Korea’s National Assembly, about this most recent incident, according to a Reuters report on Tuesday.

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
Email the writer: mike.miliard@himssmedia.com

Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS publication.

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