IBM raises the alarm over hackers targeting companies critical to the spread of COVID-19 vaccines. This is a sign that digital spies are turning their attention to the complex logistical work involved in vaccinating the world’s population against the novel coronavirus.
The information technology company said in a blog entry It was released Thursday that “a global phishing campaign” was exposed, targeting organizations linked to the COVID-19 vaccine “cold chain”. This process was necessary to keep the vaccine doses at extremely cold temperatures on their way from the manufacturer to the people’s poor.
The U.S. agency for cybersecurity and infrastructure security republished the report, warning members of Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. government’s national vaccine mission, to keep a lookout.
Understanding how to build a safe cold chain is fundamental to distributing vaccines like Pfizer and BioNTech, as the shots must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius or below to avoid spoilage.
IBM’s cybersecurity division said it had discovered an advanced group of hackers working to gather information on various aspects of the cold chain. It used carefully crafted booby-trap emails sent on behalf of a senior executive at Haier Biomedical, a Chinese cold chain provider specializing in vaccine delivery and biological sample storage.
The hackers made “an extraordinary amount of effort,” said IBM analyst Claire Zaboeva, who helped create the report. According to Zaboeva, hackers have been researching the right brand, model and pricing for various Haier refrigerators.
“Whoever put this campaign together knew exactly what products were in the supply chain to deliver a vaccine against a global pandemic,” she said.
Haier Medical has not returned any comments.
Messages sent to the email addresses used by the hackers were not returned.
IBM said the fake Haier emails were sent to around 10 different organizations but identified only one target by name: the European Commission’s Directorate-General Tax and Customs Union, which deals with tax and customs issues across the EU helped establish import rules for vaccines.
Representatives of the Directorate-General could not be reached immediately for comments.
IBM said other targets are companies involved in the manufacture of solar panels that power vaccine refrigerators in warm countries, as well as petrochemical products that could be used to make dry ice.
Who is behind the vaccine supply chain espionage campaign is not clear.
Reuters has previously documented how hackers associated with Iran, Vietnam, North Korea, South Korea, China and Russia have been accused on various occasions by cybersecurity experts or government officials of attempting to steal information about the virus and its possible treatments .
IBM’s Zaboeva said there was no shortage of potential suspects. Figuring out how to get an economical vaccine out quickly “should top the list of nation-states around the world,” she said.
© Thomson Reuters 2020
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