Amid the worst pandemic lived in modern human history, hackers do not rest. This time, the newly developed vaccines are being targeted in their transportation procedures. In particular, the cold chain logistics needed to transport the envelopes from one country to another.
The companies attacked were Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, as well as some other international institutions as the WHO and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
According to IBM – the company that revealed the attack – the attack was launched from a third country. The sophistication of the offensive suggests that countries like Russia, China, and North Korea may be behind the attack.
These countries tried to gather vital information about transportation procedures of the vaccines developed in the western hemisphere.
Since last September, phishing emails have been arriving at addresses of the Cold Chain Optimization Platform (CCEOP), the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Taxation and Customs Union, as well as many other organizations across Europe, South Korea, and the WHO.
Malware found in these emails aimed to collect the user credentials of key personnel, which could later be used to gain unauthorized access to vital data. It would compromise the integrity of the vaccine’s distribution and the privacy of information.
Vaccine access is strategic these days, and this kind of operation is more likely to be used by a government than a particular group, IBM says.
The lack of ransomware or any kind of intentions from hackers to profit is suspicious. Such a calculated move indicates that it was done for the information itself and not for money. This information could later be used to sabotage or disrupt the cold chain of the vaccines that need to be preserved at -70ºC.
Vaccines market in dispute
With every country marketing their own COVID-19 vaccine next year, there is high interest in crippling the efforts of the competition for monopolizing the distribution of vaccines around the world.
Vaccine distribution is only possible through the cold chain procedures designed by manufacturing companies like Moderna and Pfizer. It requires extreme freezing temperatures to preserve the integrity and efficiency of the vaccines at the highest levels.
Although different vaccines are conserved at different temperatures, all of them are kept below -40ºC when first produced. When the injections are to be used in their final destinations, they are stored at 1 or 2 degrees Celsius.
The emails identified by IBM as the hacking tools were disguised as part of the Haier Biomedical company, a Chinese supplier of medical equipment. Many of the organizations involved in the research for COVID-19 around the world work with them.
This has led to the belief that Chinese hackers are behind the attacks on vaccines. Also, Russian hacking activities have been detected since early July. At that time, many of the pharmaceutical companies were in the middle of their research for the new virus.