North Korea Hacked Pfizer for COVID-19 Vaccine, South Says

Yet another leading drugmaker is said to have fallen victim to North Korean hackers.
Junhyup Kwon
Seoul, KR
February 16, 2021, 11:45am
North Korea Pfizer Hacking Hackers Vaccine Kim Jong Un
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Photo: KCNA VIA KNS / AFP

North Korea tried to steal COVID-19 vaccine technology by hacking into U.S. drug maker Pfizer, South Korea’s spy agency said on Tuesday.

The North’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un has insisted that the country has not a single confirmed case of the new coronavirus, a claim that has been questioned by public health experts.

The hacking allegation suggests that the North Korean government has persistently attempted to break into pharmaceutical companies developing vaccines to curb the pandemic. Its targets have included Johnson & Johnson, Novavax, and AstraZeneca, according to Reuters.

In November, Microsoft said North Korean and Russian hackers tried to steal data from medical companies and vaccine researchers in the United States, South Korea, Canada, France, and India. Most of the attacks were unsuccessful, the American company said.

On Tuesday, the South’s National Intelligence Service told lawmakers that the North sent malicious emails in an attempt to acquire technological information and steal money, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. It also tried to hack local governments and attack companies with ransomware, the spy agency said.

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About 100 people in South Korea received those emails, the spy agency said, without saying what information the North stole or from whom.

North Korea has been accused of hacking since as early as 2014, when it was said to have attacked Sony Pictures Entertainment in response to the release of The Interview, a Seth Rogen comedy that satirizes Kim. 

It has also been accused of carrying out the 2017 WannaCry ransomware attack and hacking a South Korean cryptocurrency exchange. The funds were said to be used to support Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

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Correction: This story originally said that, according to South Korea's National Intelligence Service, the North sent malicious emails to 100 people in the South to gain access to local governments. It’s unclear whether those emails are all intended to do that.