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MIT Technology Review

Hackers accessed documents on covid-19 vaccines

The data breach will not impact the timeline of the vaccine’s roll out.

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AP

The European Medicines Agency, which has been evaluating covid-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer and BioNTech, says it was hit with a cyberattack. 

Just days after a coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech was used for the first time in the UK, regulatory documents for the medicine have "been unlawfully accessed," according to European authorities. 

The vaccine, known as BNT162b2, is the only one so far approved in any Western nation. The attack will have no impact on the vaccine’s rollout in Europe.

Much of the vaccine’s ingredient list is public, but the European Medicines Agency would possess non-public information such as more exact data on active ingredients and details about how the vaccine is manufactured. The regulators wouldn’t be alone in having this kind of data, but the agency is a clearinghouse and would have confidential information that state-sponsored hackers might find valuable.

No systems from BioNTech or Pfizer were breached, according to a statement from BioNTech, and there’s no sign any personal data was accessed. Law enforcement is currently investigating.

The targeting of information about vaccines and the European Medicines Agency is in keeping with a flurry of cyber-espionage activity as nations aim to learn more about the pandemic around the world.

Last month, it was reported that state-backed hackers tried to compromise the vaccine supply chain, with a specific focus on the technology and processes that keep vaccines extremely cold as they travel. Over the last year, hackers linked with Russia and North Korea have targeted companies researching coronavirus vaccines and treatments. Chinese and Iranian hackers were accused by the United States of trying to steal related research.

Both Russia and China have already started vaccinating their populations. American authorities are meeting later this week to decide on emergency approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and then again next week to decide on another vaccine from the pharmaceutical company Moderna.

Cybersecurity concerns have further complicated an already devastating pandemic. Opportunistic criminals have also targeted stressed hospitals with ransomware attacks.