Covid vaccines in the sights of hackers

Covid vaccines in the sights of hackers

30 March 2021 Off By Oscar Giacomin

All we need now is hackers to threaten Covid-19 vaccination campaigns around the world! According to IBM, several cyber criminal groups are targeting companies involved in the distribution of vaccines, and could therefore be preparing to attack the cold chain needed to get the doses to where they are administered. On raising the alarm, IBM reported how hackers are gathering information on all of the logistical aspects. This espionage activity, IBM added, is being conducted through a ‘global phishing campaign’ in which emails are sent on behalf of executives from Haier Biomedical, a Chinese company specialised in vaccine transport. Claire Zaboeva, an IBM strategic analyst, said this could be the tip of the iceberg of a broader global cyber intrusion campaign. “It was still an extremely well thought out and well placed campaign. And this potentially indicates a very competent person or team,” Zaboeva said. 

After the IBM alarm, the EU Commission said it was aware of the attack campaign and had taken “necessary measures” to mitigate its effects. In reality, web sharks have been sniffing the vaccine deal for some time now and IT raids of various origins have been underway for months. “So far there have been a series of attacks focused on institutes that were carrying out research and development of the medicine,” explained Alberto Pelliccione, CEO of computer security company ReaQta. “It is suspected, but certain attribution is always very difficult, that Russia, China and North Korea were behind these attacks.” “Moscow is mainly interested in knowing the results of vaccines similar in structure to its Sputnik5, while Beijing wants to have information on vaccines different from its own. Finally, North Korea, totally dependent on China, has tried to have the information to be able to develop the drug independently.”

But now the vaccines are here and therefore the attention, and the intrusions, are moving from the research centres to the transport chain. “We need to keep in mind”, the expert added, “that the world is about to make the greatest logistical effort in its history, to be clear, much greater than the Normandy landing.” At this point, state-based threats are likely to be joined by real cyber criminals acting for money. How? “Take the Pfizer vaccine that is stored at -70 degrees; the US multinational has only one storage site in Europe, in the Netherlands. Hackers could break into the system that manages the site’s refrigerators, schedule them to shut down and ask for a ransom in exchange for freeing the system.” This is called ‘ransomware’ in jargon. Faced with the risk of losing entire supplies, States would be willing to pay a lot and quickly.

However, blocking vaccine logistics remains a potential target even for attacks of government origin. “If you think about it, the first to get vaccinated is the first to get its economy 100% restarted.”The risks also concern freight forwarders such as UPS or DHL, which have already been victims of cyber attacks in the past. Even the Moderna vaccine, which still needs to be transported at -20 degrees, is exposed to potential threats. “A third phase of attacks could involve health data. Remember that 2 doses are needed, and it will therefore be necessary to trace the progress of all the jabs; information that can be of great value.”

Oscar Giacomin  / General Manager, Facto Edizioni

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