Breaking News
Black Friday SALE: Up to 54% off InvestingPro! Register here
Investing Pro 0
Ad-Free Version. Upgrade your Investing.com experience. Save up to 40% More details

North Korea-linked hackers targeted J&J, Novavax in hunt for COVID research

Stock MarketsDec 02, 2020 08:51AM ET
Saved. See Saved Items.
This article has already been saved in your Saved Items
 
3/3 © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Vials and medical syringe are seen in front of J&J logo in this illustration 2/3

By Raphael Satter and Jack Stubbs

WASHINGTON/LONDON (Reuters) - Suspected North Korean hackers have recently tried to break into at least nine health organizations, including pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) and vaccine developer Novavax (NASDAQ:NVAX) Inc, revealing a broader effort to target key players in the race to develop treatments for COVID-19.

Four people who have investigated the attacks said the spate of hacking attempts began in September, and used web domains mimicking online login portals to try and trick staff at the targeted organisations into revealing their passwords.

The hacking attempts included a bid to get inside British drugmaker and vaccine developer AstraZeneca (NASDAQ:AZN), which Reuters first reported last week was in Pyongyang's crosshairs.

North Korea has not confirmed any coronavirus infections, but South Korea's National Intelligence Service has said an outbreak there cannot be ruled out as the country had trade and people-to-people exchanges with China - the source of the pandemic - before shutting the border in late January.

A Reuters review of publicly-available Internet records show that web domains and servers used by the attackers have previously been identified by the U.S. government and security researchers as part of a North Korean hacking campaign.

Other targets identified by the sources, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, included the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, the University of Tuebingen in Germany, and four South Korean pharmaceutical firms: Genexine Inc, Boryung Pharma Co Ltd, Shin Poong Pharm Co Ltd and Celltrion Inc.

Reuters was not able to determine if any of the hacking attempts, some of which were reported by the Wall Street Journal earlier on Wednesday, were successful.

North Korea's mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A message sent to an email address used by the hackers was not returned. Pyongyang, which has no direct line of contact for foreign media, has previously denied carrying out cyberattacks.

Novavax spokeswoman Amy Speak said her company was "aware of this threat" and was coordinating with government agencies and private cybersecurity experts.

"We are confident we can continue to progress with our COVID-19 vaccine candidate without disruption and that these incursions do not pose a risk to the integrity of our data," she said.

A spokeswoman for the University of Tuebingen said staff were repeatedly targeted by hackers but all recent attacks "were detected and blocked by our IT-Team at an very early stage, no damage occurred."

Genexine said it was aware of a malicious website impersonating a company login portal but had not recorded any direct attacks against its staff. Celltrion said it had recently identified and successfully blocked a number of hacking attempts as part of its regular security work.

Johnson & Johnson, Beth Israel, and Shin Poong declined to comment. Boryung did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Simon Choi, an expert at South Korean cybersecurity group IssueMakersLab, said he had attributed the hacking attempts to North Korea and it was clear the attackers were specifically hunting for information about COVID-19.

In the case of South Korea's Celltrion, for example, he said the spies tried to break into an email account set up to field queries about Remsima, a monoclonal antibody which is being studied as a treatment for severe cases of the disease.

A person familiar with the matter said that some of the fake login pages had been spotted by security experts at Microsoft Corp (NASDAQ:MSFT), helping prompt an alert the company issued last month about the threat of North Korean espionage to COVID-19 researchers.

Microsoft stopped short of naming the targeted organizations in its Nov. 13 blog post, but said they were "leading pharmaceutical companies and vaccine researchers" in countries including the United States and South Korea.

Lawmakers in South Korea also appear to have alluded to the digital espionage campaign, saying last week that its intelligence service thwarted attempts by Pyongyang to hack into South Korean companies developing coronavirus vaccines, although they provided no further details.

Officially, North Korean authorities have reported no cases of coronavirus in their country, making it the only non-island nation - aside from Turkmenistan - to do so. But North Korean leader Kim Jong Un raised eyebrows last month when he was quoted by state media as ordering officials to intensify their anti-coronavirus work.

Digital espionage against health bodies, vaccine scientists and drugmakers has intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic as state-backed hacking groups scramble to obtain the latest research and information about the outbreak.

Reuters has previously documented how hackers linked to Iran, Vietnam, South Korea, China and Russia have on separate occasions been accused of trying to steal information about the virus and its potential treatments.

Western officials say any stolen information could give foreign governments a valuable strategic advantage as they fight to contain a disease.

North Korea-linked hackers targeted J&J, Novavax in hunt for COVID research
 

Related Articles

Add a Comment

Comment Guidelines

We encourage you to use comments to engage with other users, share your perspective and ask questions of authors and each other. However, in order to maintain the high level of discourse we’ve all come to value and expect, please keep the following criteria in mind:  

  •            Enrich the conversation, don’t trash it.

  •           Stay focused and on track. Only post material that’s relevant to the topic being discussed. 

  •           Be respectful. Even negative opinions can be framed positively and diplomatically. Avoid profanity, slander or personal attacks directed at an author or another user. Racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination will not be tolerated.

  • Use standard writing style. Include punctuation and upper and lower cases. Comments that are written in all caps and contain excessive use of symbols will be removed.
  • NOTE: Spam and/or promotional messages and comments containing links will be removed. Phone numbers, email addresses, links to personal or business websites, Skype/Telegram/WhatsApp etc. addresses (including links to groups) will also be removed; self-promotional material or business-related solicitations or PR (ie, contact me for signals/advice etc.), and/or any other comment that contains personal contact specifcs or advertising will be removed as well. In addition, any of the above-mentioned violations may result in suspension of your account.
  • Doxxing. We do not allow any sharing of private or personal contact or other information about any individual or organization. This will result in immediate suspension of the commentor and his or her account.
  • Don’t monopolize the conversation. We appreciate passion and conviction, but we also strongly believe in giving everyone a chance to air their point of view. Therefore, in addition to civil interaction, we expect commenters to offer their opinions succinctly and thoughtfully, but not so repeatedly that others are annoyed or offended. If we receive complaints about individuals who take over a thread or forum, we reserve the right to ban them from the site, without recourse.
  • Only English comments will be allowed.

Perpetrators of spam or abuse will be deleted from the site and prohibited from future registration at Investing.com’s discretion.

Write your thoughts here
 
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
 
Post
Post also to:
 
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
1000
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Thanks for your comment. Please note that all comments are pending until approved by our moderators. It may therefore take some time before it appears on our website.
 
Are you sure you want to delete this chart?
 
Post
 
Replace the attached chart with a new chart ?
1000
Your ability to comment is currently suspended due to negative user reports. Your status will be reviewed by our moderators.
Please wait a minute before you try to comment again.
Add Chart to Comment
Confirm Block

Are you sure you want to block %USER_NAME%?

By doing so, you and %USER_NAME% will not be able to see any of each other's Investing.com's posts.

%USER_NAME% was successfully added to your Block List

Since you’ve just unblocked this person, you must wait 48 hours before renewing the block.

Report this comment

I feel that this comment is:

Comment flagged

Thank You!

Your report has been sent to our moderators for review
Disclaimer: Fusion Media would like to remind you that the data contained in this website is not necessarily real-time nor accurate. All CFDs (stocks, indexes, futures) and Forex prices are not provided by exchanges but rather by market makers, and so prices may not be accurate and may differ from the actual market price, meaning prices are indicative and not appropriate for trading purposes. Therefore Fusion Media doesn`t bear any responsibility for any trading losses you might incur as a result of using this data.

Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any liability for loss or damage as a result of reliance on the information including data, quotes, charts and buy/sell signals contained within this website. Please be fully informed regarding the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest investment forms possible.
Continue with Google
or
Sign up with Email