South Korean intelligence agency accused North Korea of attempting to steal information on coronavirus vaccines and treatments by hacking Pfizer, the US pharmaceutical firm that partnered with Germany’s BioNTech to develop the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine won approval from authorities late last year before being rolled out across the world.
North Korea has been under self-imposed isolation since closing its borders in January last year and leader Kim Jong Un has repeatedly insisted that the country has had no coronavirus cases.
Seoul’s National Intelligence Service “briefed us that North Korea tried to obtain technology involving the COVID vaccine and treatment by using cyberwarfare to hack into Pfizer,” Ha Tae-keung, an opposition member of South Korea’s parliamentary intelligence panel said.
Ha did not elaborate on the timing or success of the attempt.
The revelation follows attempts last year by suspected North Korean hackers to break into the systems of at least nine healthcare companies including Johnson & Johnson, Novavax and AstraZeneca.
Digital espionage directed at health agencies, vaccine scientists and pharmaceutical makers has surged during the COVID-19 pandemic.
North Korea is often accused of turning to an army of hackers to make money as international sanctions has crippled its economy.
Meanwhile, the isolated nation is expected to receive nearly two million doses of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University by the first half of this year as part of the World Health Organization-backed COVAX vaccine-sharing programme.