31.01.2023

North Korea ‘tried to steal’ Covid vaccine technology from Pfizer

South Korean spies informed MPs of the development at a closed-door hearing of the national assembly’s intelligence committee in Seoul, the news agency Yonhap reported on Tuesday.

It was not revealed when the hack occurred or if Kim Jong-un’s regime succeeded in stealing crucial information about how to produce the vaccine that has now been approved in a number of countries around the world.

Pfizer has not yet responded to the claims.

South Korea’ intelligence agency has previously said it foiled North Korean attempts to access Seoul-based companies involved in vaccine production, and in December last year it was reported that Pyongyang hackers tried to break into at least nine health organisations working on vaccines in countries including the UK and US.

It also comes shortly after a report that said North Korean hackers were using funds raised through cyber crime to pay for the country’s nuclear weapons programme. The country’s coffers have been badly hit by a series of international sanctions that prohibit most trade.

A confidential report by the UN Security Council said the country raised more than $316m (£229.5m) in cryptocurrency to support its banned nuclear and ballistic missile programmes between 2019 and November 2020.

North Korea was held responsible for a 2013 online campaign that paralysed the servers of South Korean financial institutions. In 2014 it was accused of a massive hack on Sony Pictures and in 2017 blamed for the infamous WannaCry ransomware attack, referred to at the time as a global epidemic.

Recently, Google said hackers backed by the North Korean government may be posing as computer security bloggers and using fake accounts on social media to steal information from researchers in the field.

North Korea is one of the only countries in the world not to have declared a single coronavirus infection, though this has been met with scepticism by experts.

The country applied for two million doses of the vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca through the vaccine sharing programme run by Gavi (formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation).

Yonhap also reported that Kim Jong-un’s wife, Ri Sol Ju, has not been seen in public for more than a year now, and may be keeping a low profile to avoid the risk of infection.

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