South Korea’s intelligence agency said North Korea attempted to steal information about coronavirus vaccines and treatments by hacking Pfizer, the U.S. pharmaceutical company whose highly effective COVID-19 vaccine is being administered to millions of people around the world.
North Korea has been under self-imposed isolation since its borders were closed in January last year, and leader Kim Jong Un has repeatedly insisted the country has not had a coronavirus case.
Seoul’s National Intelligence Service “informed us that North Korea had attempted to obtain technology involving the vaccine and COVID treatment by using cyberwarfare to hack Pfizer,” Ha Tae-keung, a member of Pfizer, told reporters. opposition from the South Korean parliamentary intelligence group.
Ha did not say when or how successful the attempt was. His office confirmed his comments but gave no details.
Pfizer’s offices in Asia and South Korea did not comment immediately.
Tuesday’s revelation follows last year’s attempts by suspected North Korean hackers to break into the systems of at least nine healthcare companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Novavax and AstraZeneca.
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) said it had also foiled attempts by its neighbor to hack South Korean companies developing vaccines against the coronavirus.
Digital espionage aimed at health agencies, vaccine scientists and pharmaceutical manufacturers has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
North Korea is often accused of turning to an army of hackers to make money, as international sanctions imposed for its nuclear weapons program make the country’s trade nearly impossible and health experts say its motivation for attacking vaccine developers might be to sell the stolen data rather than develop its own vaccine.
A United Nations report last month said that Hackers linked to North Korea “Continued to conduct operations against financial institutions and virtual money changers to generate revenue” in 2020 to support its nuclear and missile programs. The total theft amounted to nearly $ 320 million, he said.
Pfizer’s vaccine, jointly developed with Germany’s BioNTech, uses cutting-edge technology and began gaining approval from authorities late last year before being rolled out worldwide.
The two companies said in December that their vaccine documents were “illegally accessed»During a cyber attack on a server of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the European medicines regulator.
The comments came after the Amsterdam-based EMA said it had been the victim of a hacking attack, without specifying when it happened or whether its work on COVID-19 had been recognized.
History of piracy
North Korea is expected to receive nearly two million doses of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford by the first half of this year under the WHO-backed COVAX vaccine exchange program or the World Health Organization.
It has not confirmed any cases of COVID-19 so far, but the NIS has said an outbreak cannot be ruled out given the North’s close ties with China.
Pyongyang’s hacking activity first gained worldwide attention in 2014 when it was accused of hacking Sony Pictures Entertainment in revenge for The Interview, a satirical film that mocked frontman Kim.
The attack resulted in the posting of several previously unreleased films as well as a vast mine of confidential documents.
The North is also accused of a huge cyber-heist of $ 81 million by the Central Bank of Bangladesh, as well as the theft of $ 60 million from Taiwan’s Far Eastern International Bank.
The Pyongyang pirates were also blamed for the 2017 Want to cry a global cyber attack on ransomware, which has infected some 300,000 computers in 150 countries, encrypting users’ files and demanding hundreds of dollars from their owners for keys to retrieve them.
Pyongyang denied the charges, saying it had “nothing to do with cyber attacks.”