IBM Warns Hackers Targeting COVID Vaccine ‘Cold Chain’ Supply Process

IBM is humming the alarm over hackers targeting companies critical to the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, a sign that digital secret agents are turning their attention to the complex logistical work involved in vaccinating the world’s population against the novel coronavirus.

In a blog post, the knowledge technology company said on Thursday that it had uncovered “a global phishing campaign” focused on organizations related to the COVID-19 vaccine “cold chain” – the method needed to keep vaccine doses at extremely cold temperatures as they travel from manufacturers to people’s arms.

The post was reposted in a report by the U.S. Cyber security and Infrastructure Security Agency. The agency has warned the members of Operation Warp Speed that is U.S. government’s national vaccine mission is under threat from hackers.

The Pfizer Inc-BioNTech SE has developed the understanding of how to build a secure cold chain that is fundamental in distributing vaccines. This is developed because the shots are needed to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius (-94 F) or below to avoid spoiling.

IBM’s cybersecurity unit mentioned that 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 focuses on vaccine transport and biological sample storage.

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

“Whoever put together this campaign was intimately conscious of whatever products were involved within the supply chain to deliver a vaccine for a worldwide pandemic,” she said.

Haier Medical did not return messages seeking comment. Messages sent to the e-mail addresses employed by the hackers weren’t returned.

IBM said the bogus Haier emails were sent to around 10 different organizations but only identified one target by name: the ECU Commission’s Directorate-General for Taxation and 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 campaign isn’t clear.

It was previously reported by Reuters that documented how hackers linked to Iran, Vietnam, North Korea, South Korea, China, and Russia had on separate occasions been accused by cybersecurity experts or officialdom of trying to steal information about the virus and its potential treatments.

IBM’s Zaboeva said there was no shortage of potential suspects. Figuring out the way to swiftly distribute an economy-saving vaccine “should be topping the lists of nation states across the planet ,” she said.

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