Thursday 3 December 2020 1:52 pm

Hackers target vaccine supply chain in suspected state-led cyber attack

The international Covid vaccine supply chain has been targeted by a suspected state-led cyber attack, according to IBM.

An alert issued by the US government showed IBM tracked a campaign aimed at the delivery “cold chain” used to keep vaccines at the correct temperature during transit.

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Hackers targeted a range of organisations including within the US government, and across the energy and IT sectors.

Although the attackers’ identity is unclear at this stage, IBM said the sophisticated methods indicated a nation state was behind the campaign.

The attack bore “the potential hallmarks of nation-state tradecraft” rather than an attack by cyber criminals, the company said.

“The precision targeting and nature of the specific targeted organisations potentially point to nation-state activity,” IBM added. 

Phishing emails were sent out across six countries in September pretending to be from an executive from a legitimate Chinese company involved in CCEOP’s supply chain.

The emails targeted organisations linked to the Cold Chain Equipment Optimisation Platform (CCEOP) of Gavi, the international vaccine alliance.

Gavi’s partners include the World Health Organization, Unicef, the World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which help distribute vaccines to some of the poorest regions around the world.

The attacks likely provided the hackers “advanced insight into the purchase and movement of a vaccine that can impact life and the global economy,” IBM said.

It comes after Interpol yesterday issued an alert warning that organised criminal gangs may attempt to steal Covid-19 vaccines or create their own fake versions to profit from the pandemic.

In a notice to its 194 member states, Interpol warned that the vaccine rollout presented “unprecedented” opportunity for criminal behaviour.

“As governments are preparing to roll out vaccines, criminal organisations are planning to infiltrate or disrupt supply chains,” said Interpol secretary general Jürgen Stock. “Criminal networks will also be targeting unsuspecting members of the public via fake websites and false cures, which could pose a significant risk to their health, even their lives.

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It comes as the NHS prepares to roll out the world’s first Covid vaccine next week.

Around 50 hospital hubs around the UK will start distributing Pfizer and Biontech’s coronavirus vaccine to the most vulnerable, after it yesterday received the green light from Britain’s regulatory body.