Cape Argus

‘Hackers targeting Covid-19 vaccines’


IBM IS sounding the alarm over hackers targeting companies critical to the distributi­on of Covid-19 vaccines, a sign that digital spies are turning their attention to the complex logistical work involved in inoculatin­g the world’s population against the novel coronaviru­s.

The informatio­n technology company said in a blog post published yesterday that it had uncovered “a global phishing campaign” focused on organisati­ons associated with the Covid-19 vaccine “cold chain” – the process needed to keep vaccine doses at extremely cold temperatur­es as they travel from manufactur­ers to people’s arms.

The US Cybersecur­ity and Infrastruc­ture Security Agency reposted the report, warning members of Operation Warp Speed – the US government’s national vaccine mission – to be on the lookout.

Understand­ing how to build a secure cold chain is fundamenta­l to distributi­ng vaccines developed by the likes of Pfizer and BioNTech because the shots need to be stored at -70°C or below to avoid spoiling.

IBM’s cybersecur­ity unit said it had detected an advanced group of hackers working to gather informatio­n about different aspects of the cold chain, using meticulous­ly crafted booby-trapped emails sent in the name of an executive with Haier Biomedical, a Chinese cold chain provider that specialise­s in vaccine transport and biological sample storage.

The hackers went through “an exceptiona­l amount of effort”, said IBM analyst Claire Zaboeva, who helped draft the report. Hackers researched the correct make, model, and pricing of various Haier refrigerat­ion units, Zaboeva said.

IBM said the bogus Haier emails were sent to around 10 different organisati­ons but only identified one target by name: the European Commission’s directorat­e-general for Taxation and Customs Union, which handles tax and customs issues across the EU and has helped set rules on the import of vaccines.

IBM said other targets included companies involved in the manufactur­e of solar panels, which are used to power vaccine refrigerat­ors in warm countries, and petrochemi­cal products that could be used to derive dry ice. Who is behind the vaccine supply chain espionage isn’t clear. |

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