IBM: Hackers are trying to steal EU Commission secrets on vaccines

Hackers, believed to be linked to a foreign state, are attempting to hack the EU Commission using fake emails in an effort to steal secrets on the covid-19 vaccines, American tech giant IBM has claimed.

The attempted hacking allegedly began in September of 2020, with culprits impersonating “a business executive from Haier Biomedical, a credible and legitimate member company” related to the covid-19 vaccine, IBM said on Thursday. Haier Biomedical is a Chinese company that specialises in the storage, transport and refrigeration of vaccines.

These fake emails, sent from the fraudulent email address “[email protected]”, were sent to several high-level targets, and contained “malicious” links, which, when clicked, asked the user to enter personal details.

IBM said the chosen targets “could serve as a single point of compromise impacting multiple high-value targets across the 27 member states of the European Union and beyond”, with analyst Claire Zaboeva saying the hackers had gone to an “exceptional amount of effort”. Culprits allegedly researched the correct make, model, and even the price of various Haier Biomedical refrigeration units to ensure the emails seemed as authentic as possible.

“Whoever put together this campaign was intimately aware of whatever products were involved in the supply chain to deliver a vaccine for a global pandemic,” Zaboeva said.

Targets included EU officials in Brussels who deal with customs and tax, as well as staff in a German website-development company in the CCEOP (Cold Chain Equipment Optimisation Platform, a UN group involved in the distribution of medicines and drugs). Hackers also went after those working in sales, web development and cybersecurity positions in sectors in Italy, the Czech Republic, and “greater Europe”. Even outside of the EU27, organisations as far away as South Korea and Taiwan were also attacked.

According to IBM, the goal was to steal credentials and information from high ranking officials to gain future access to networks and steal “sensitive information relating to covid-19 vaccine distribution” – information that would be a “hot black market commodity”.

As of yet, it is unclear whether or not the attack was successful – however, considering Haier Biomedical is a trusted organisation, the front may well have fooled one or more intended targets.

Though the US company did not point fingers at any specific suspects, it did say that the signs pointed to “nation-state activity”.

It is said that the methods used by the hackers to cover their digital tracks showed “the potential hallmarks of nation-state tradecraft.”

Back in July, the EU blasted China and North Korea, as well as Russia, as the world’s worst offenders in the area of cyber crime.

China has also been suspected recently of using less technology-based spying to steal vaccine information in Belgium.

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