North Korea reportedly tried to steal COVID-19 vaccine technology from Pfizer

Cornelia Mascio
Febbraio 17, 2021

North Korean hackers stole technology related to Covid-19 vaccines and treatments from U.S. drugmaker Pfizer, according to a South Korean lawmaker.

National Intelligence Service (NIS), the chief intelligence agency of South Korea informed lawmakers about the alleged cyber breach on Tuesday, February 16, during a closed-door briefing to a parliamentary intelligence committee, Bloomberg reported.

The reported attempt by North Korea, although bold, is not all that surprising.

Although the country has not yet confirmed any cases of coronavirus, North Korea is due to receive around 2 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine this year through the COVAX vaccine-sharing programme. And the closure has added to the pressure on its tottering economy from worldwide sanctions imposed over its banned weapons systems, increasing the urgency for Pyongyang to find a way to deal with the disease.

It is the first official confirmation that the North has asked for global help, with the country's medical infrastructure seen as woefully inadequate for dealing with any large-scale outbreak.

Last summer, the UK, USA and Canada all accused Russian Federation of attempting to hack organisations developing a working coronavirus vaccine.

It was not clear when the Pfizer hack occurred or if it was successful.

A loosened screw in South Korea's border sensor system meant guards were not alerted and allowed the defector to cross the security zone.

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech SE later stated that documents pertaining to their vaccine development had been targeted in a cyberattack on the European Medicines Agency.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the attacks, at a time when organisations around the world were working to develop a vaccine, "completely unacceptable". The allegations come only a week after a confidential United Nations report seen by AFP said North Korea had stolen more than $300 million worth of cryptocurrencies through cyberattacks in recent months to support its weapons programmes.

In a leaked report, the independent sanctions monitors accused Pyongyang of using stolen funds from its hacking program to support its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and circumvent sanctions.

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