North Korean hackers tried to rob pharmaceutical company Pfizer for information on vaccines and treatments for the coronavirus, South Korean lawmaker Ha Tae-Keung said on Tuesday based on the agency’s information. information from his country.
“There have been attempts to steal the Covid vaccine and treatment technology in cyber attacks, and Pfizer has been hacked,” Ha said at a press conference after receiving information from the National Intelligence Service (NIS) .
Digital espionage directed at health agencies, vaccine development scientists and drug makers has increased during the pandemic, as hackers groups linked to the Kim Jong-un regime seek ways to ensure access to the latest research and information on Covid -19.
However, experts suspect that the criminals would be more interested in selling the stolen data than in using it to develop a North Korean vaccine.
Last year, the country was also accused of supporting attacks on at least nine pharmaceutical companies, such as U.S. companies Johnson & Johnson and Novavax and Britain’s AstraZeneca, all directly linked to the production of immunizers against the coronavirus.
On Tuesday, the NIS also said it had thwarted several attempts by its northern neighbor to invade South Korean companies that are also working on developing vaccines against Covid-19.
North Korea is expected to receive nearly 2 million doses of the immunizer produced by AstraZeneca by the end of the first half of this year through the Covax Facility, the international consortium led by the World Health Organization to distribute vaccines in poor countries.
The North Korean dictator guarantees, however, that his country has had no case of coronavirus contamination. Experts point out that the allegation is highly unlikely, given that China, where the first cases of Covid-19 were identified, in addition to being a neighbor, is North Korea’s main trading partner.
The border closures in January last year increased pressure on the North Korean economy, already subject to international sanctions due to the nuclear and ballistic program developed by the regime.
In recent years, the country has often been accused of using cyber attacks precisely to circumvent the restrictions. It is estimated that North Korea has an army of several thousand highly skilled hackers to attack companies, institutions and research centers, especially in South Korea.
The complaint filed on Tuesday comes less than a week after an investigation by UN experts accused North Korea of being responsible for thefts totaling more than $ 316.4 million in attacks on exchanges of cryptocurrency.
The skills of hackers linked to the Pyongyang regime emerged in 2014, when North Korea was accused of attacking the databases of the Sony Pictures studio in retaliation for the release of the 2014 film “The Interview.” The comedy imagines two journalists interviewing the country’s dictator, Kim Jong-un, also with the mission of assassinating him.
At the time, the regime denounced the film as “a sponsorship without disguise of terrorism, as well as an act of war”, in a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
In 2018, a cybersecurity company working with the US government revealed that a group of hackers linked to Kim Jong-un attempted to steal $ 1.1 billion (5.92 billion reais, at the current price) from organizations from several countries, including Brazil.
Among the confirmed targets were the Central Bank of Bangladesh, which lost $ 81 million (R $ 435 million) in 2016, and Taiwanese bank Far Eastern International, which stole $ 60 million (R $ 322 million) in 2017. .
Experts have been able to identify the hackers’ modus operandi in most cases. After making a flight, the North Korean group leaves a program capable of imploding the entire system.
The idea is, at the same time, to destroy the evidence of the attack and distract the security authorities, like a thief who burns the house after the theft. Many organizations don’t realize they’ve been the target of interventions at this point, when the theft is over and their network has been destroyed.
Since 2006, North Korea has been the subject of UN sanctions which have seriously damaged its economy. The measures have been reinforced by member countries of the Entity’s Security Council, primarily the United States.
Negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled after the failure of the summit between Kim Jong-un and former President Donald Trump in 2019. One of the reasons given for this stagnation is the lack of consensus on the concessions that North Korea should do in return to lift sanctions and reduce international pressure.