US drug maker Pfizer and its German counterpart BioNTech confirmed that hackers who illegally accessed COVID-19 vaccine data posted it online. The data was extracted from a server belonging to the European medicines regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which approves medicines and vaccines for the European Union. It is not clear who was behind the attack and when it occurred.
Pfizer and BioNTech Documents Related to COVID-19 Vaccine Data Leaked Anonymously Online
In its fourth update on the COVID-19 vaccine data leak, the EMA revealed that “documents related to COVID-19 drugs and vaccines belonging to third parties have been leaked on the Internet.”
However, the agency assured the public that the “timelines related to the evaluation and approval of COVID-19 drugs and vaccines” were not affected.
Without revealing any further details, EMA said that “law enforcement authorities are taking the necessary measures.” The European agency also promised to inform other third parties whose documents were possibly illegally accessed.
However, the European regulatory body withheld information on when the incident occurred or who was behind the attack. It also did not clarify which specific aspects of the COVID-19 vaccine data were stolen.
The EMA notified the companies after Yarix, an Italian cybersecurity company, claimed that it had discovered the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine authorization documents on the dark web.
Yarix CEO Mirko Gatto said the leaked documents included confidential emails between the drugmaker and the European agency. Documents accessed included Word documents, PDFs, email screenshots, PowerPoint presentations, and EMA peer review comments.
Previous reports indicated that hackers had stolen documents related to regulatory submissions of Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 candidate vaccine, BNT162b2, stored on the EMA server. The previous EMA update had revealed that the attack was limited to a single application.
Pfizer and BioNTech said that the EMA had informed them “that the agency has been the target of a cyberattack and that some documents related to the regulatory filing for the candidate COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech were accessed.”
EMA said that the personal data of the study participants was not compromised in the incident. For its part, Pfizer clarified that its systems were not compromised in the leak.
COVID-19 Vaccine Data Highly Wanted by Cybercriminals and State Actors
The UK’s National Center for Cyber Security (NCSC), the World Health Organization (WHO), IBM and Microsoft issued independent hacker alerts targeting major COVID-19 vaccine producers and healthcare systems.
Access to COVID-19 vaccine data allows competitors to accelerate their COVID-19 investigation, giving them an unfair advantage and closing the gap with other producers. And several countries launched cyber espionage campaigns to access COVID-19 vaccine data from market leaders.
Consequently, many COVID-19 vaccine development companies have been targeted in the fierce race to launch COVID-19 vaccines and gain a strategic advantage in the coronavirus vaccine supply chain.
The alleged state-sponsored hackers targeted AstraZeneca, Gilead, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Novavax to steal coronavirus vaccine data. The usual suspects for such attacks were state-sponsored hacking groups from Russia, China, North Korea and Iran.
Lazarus Group, a North Korean persistence advanced threat actor, carried out cyberattacks against a drug maker and a health ministry that were attempting to steal COVID-19 vaccine data to accelerate COVID-19 research in the hermit nation.
Commenting on EMA Update 4, Chris Clements, Vice President of Solutions Architecture, Cerberus Sentinel, said:
“It is a relief that the cyberattack did not delay the launch of the vaccine, but unfortunately, the published information indicates that Pfizer and EMA are among the majority of hacking victims who only discover that they have been breached when their confidential information posted on the dark web. “
Clements said organizations must adopt a “culture of security” to protect themselves and their users from potential cyber attacks.
Anonymous #hackers leaked documents related to the COVID-19 vaccine data stolen from the server of the European Medicines Agency. #cyber security
“However, preventive measures can only go so far. Additionally, organizations must conduct regular testing or ‘ethical hacking’ to ensure there are no bugs or loopholes, as well as have continuous monitoring of systems and applications to quickly identify and respond to any suspicious activity before harm can be done. widespread, ”Clements said. concluded.