North Korea has attempted to steal Covid-19 vaccine technology from US pharmaceutical company Pfizer, according to South Korean intelligence officials.
South Korea’s National Intelligence Agency privately briefed lawmakers about the alleged attack on Tuesday, reported local news agency Yonhap.
Allegedly, there have also been break-in attempts at other vaccine developers. While many of the attacks failed, Microsoft has warned that some have been successful.
It is currently unclear what, if any, data was stolen. The BBC has asked Pfizer to comment but it has yet to respond.
North Korea closed its borders in January last year soon after the virus began to emerge in China and has yet to report a single case of Covid-19. However, Pyongyang is due to receive two million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine in the coming weeks.
In November, Microsoft said at least nine health organisations including Pfizer had been targets of digital intrusion by state-backed hackers in North Korea and Russia.
The US tech giant said North Korean groups called Zinc and Cerium, and a Russian group nicknamed Fancy Bear, were responsible.
The Kremlin has denied targeting other countries’ vaccine research.
Since the start of the pandemic, several governments have been deploying their hackers to gain an advantage. Some of this has been intelligence gathering and some of it the theft of intellectual property in order to play catch-up.
North Korea is a closed society but one with advanced cyber-units, which have been willing to target other countries not only for secrets but even just for money.
Last year in the UK, the British National Cyber Security Centre threw a protective shield around vaccine research.
This year, the focus has shifted more towards protecting the supply chain and rollout of vaccines from disruption.