South Korea’s National Intelligence Service announced that North Korea attempted to hack into US-based pharmaceutical company Pfizer. According to the National Intelligence Service, North Korea’s cyberattack aimed to steal technology information on Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. During a closed-door National Assembly hearing, the intelligence officials informed South Korean lawmakers of the findings.
“There were attempts to steal COVID vaccine and treatment technology during cyberattacks, and Pfizer was hacked,” said Ha Tae-Kung, an opposition lawmaker and member of the parliamentary intelligence panel. After developing the COVID-19 vaccine with biotechnology company BioNTech, Pfizer received an emergency use authorization from the World Health Organization.
The information on the attack remains unclear whether North Korea succeeded in breaching Pfizer’s servers. Regarding the cyberattack’s time of occurrence, the intelligence officials did not disclose further details. So far, Pfizer’s pharmaceutical sites in Asia and South Korea have not provided a statement. North Korean diplomats have also not yet publicly acknowledged the alleged Pfizer vaccine technology theft.
Cyberattacks from North Korea
Aside from the Pfizer hacking, Ha shared that North Korea’s year-on-year cyberattack attempts to South Korea increased by 32%. Although North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un claimed they had no COVID-19 cases, the Pfizer attack marks another pharmaceutical hacking from North Korea. North Korea will receive about 2 million AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines from COVAX, a global initiative securing equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.
In November 2020, Microsoft announced they had detected cyberattacks from North Korea and Russia. According to Microsoft’s statement, the attacks were directed to healthcare organizations, vaccine manufacturers, and pharmaceutical companies in multiple countries. Last year, Reuters reported that North Korean hackers conducted a cyberattack targeting British vaccine researcher AstraZeneca with unsuccessful results. Through networking sites, including LinkedIn and WhatsApp, the hackers tried to lure AstraZeneca staff and researchers with fake recruitments.
South Korea and COVID-19 vaccinations
With the approaching South Korean COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Seoul also secured around 23 million vaccine doses, increasing its vaccine supply to 79 million. This February, South Korea’s Prime Minister Chung Sye-Kun announced they had obtained 3 million vaccines from Pfizer. South Korea also got COVID-19 vaccines from Novavax for 20 million people. During 2021’s second quarter, South Korea will receive the additional Pfizer vaccines on top of the 10 million doses it already acquired.
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