The Guardian reported at the time that Ha Tae-keung, an official in South Korea’s opposition party, was stating that South Korean intelligence had “foiled attempts by North Korean hackers to disrupt attempts to develop a Covid-19 vaccine.” He did not state which South Korean companies had been targeted.
This week, that same politician said more about his charges.
“There were attempts to steal COVID vaccine and treatment technology during cyberattacks and Pfizer was hacked,” Ha told reporters this week, basing that assurance on a briefing provided by South Korean intelligence. He did not say when the hacking happened, or how successful it was.
Pfizer is among the companies that has been successful in developing a coronavirus vaccine, and that vaccine has been distributed in much of the world, including in the U.S.
Ha also said that Ri Sol Ju, the wife of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, has avoided public appearances of late because she is “keeping a low profile to avoid infection risks,” also citing the intelligence briefing. There has been much speculation in recent months as to where North Korea’s first lady has been.
Ha has often spoken in the media about goings-on in North Korea, much of it sourced from South Korea’s National Intelligence Service. Per The Associated Press, Ha told the media last November that per NIS, Kim “has ordered at least two people executed, banned fishing at sea and locked down the capital, Pyongyang, as part of frantic efforts to guard against the coronavirus and its economic damage.” He also said that Kim, in retaliation against falling exchange rates, had ordered the execution of a “high-profile money changer.”
An interagency U.S. government panel, consisting of Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the U.S. Cyber Command Cyber National Mission Force (CNMF), issued a warning last fall about the threat posed by Kimsuky, a North Korean hacking group. The report stated that Kimusky had been “tasked by the North Korean regime with a global intelligence-gathering mission,” with such targets as think tanks, part of the South Korean government, and various experts.
Another report earlier this month stated that North Korea has used a mix of hacking and espionage, targeting cybersecurity researchers.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review, and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.