Alleged North Korean hackers targeted AstraZeneca’s COVID vaccine


Suspected North Korean hackers have reportedly tried to break into the systems of AstraZeneca, one of three western drugmakers claiming to have created a successful coronavirus vaccine.

The hackers posed as recruiters on LinkedIn and WhatsApp to approach AstraZeneca staff with fake job offers, two people with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

They then sent documents purporting to be job descriptions that were actually laced with malicious code designed to gain access to the staffers’ computer systems, the wire service said.

The hackers targeted a “broad set of people” — including staff working on the UK company’s controversial COVID-19 vaccine, the report said.

So far, they are not thought to have successfully gained access, the sources told the outlet.

The tools and techniques used suggested they were part of an ongoing hacking campaign that US officials and cybersecurity researchers have attributed to North Korea, claimed the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity to Reuters to discuss non-public information.

Some of the accounts used to target AstraZeneca staff were registered to Russian email addresses, however — which the sources said was most likely an attempt to mislead investigators.

It comes after South Korean officials have also accused the Hermit Kingdom of trying to hack its systems to steal information on potential vaccines.

North Korea has been blamed by US prosecutors for some of the world’s most damaging cyberattacks, including the hack and leak of emails from Sony Pictures in 2014, the 2016 theft of $81 million from the Central Bank of Bangladesh, and unleashing the Wannacry ransomware virus in 2017.

The hackers have pivoted to COVID-related targets in recent weeks, according to three people who have investigated the attacks.

The North Korean mission to the United Nations in Geneva did not respond to a request for comment.

Kim Jong Un’s administration — which has no direct line of contact for foreign media — has previously denied carrying out cyberattacks.

AstraZeneca declined to comment.

The UK drugmaker last week joined Pfizer and Moderna in announcing successful trial results for its coronavirus vaccine — but has now said it will undergo further testing amid uproar over its methods.

A Jenner Institute researcher works on the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.
A Jenner Institute researcher works on the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP

A confessed “mistake” in dosing means the most successful results came in a group of just 2,741 volunteers, all of whom were aged under 55, meaning the success may have been due to their relative youth.

“Now that we’ve found what looks like a better efficacy we have to validate this, so we need to do an additional study,” Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot told Bloomberg News.

With Post wires