Hackers are now targeting the critical COVID-19 vaccine cold supply chain

By Michael Grothaus

As if the world needed another challenge in 2020, hackers have been found to be targeting the cold supply chain for the COVID-19 vaccine, reports The Financial Times. The cold supply chain is critical in the deployment of the vaccine, which takes highly specialized equipment to keep vaccine doses at chillingly low temperatures so they can still be effective when administered to an individual.

The Pfizer vaccine needs to be store at at least -94ºF (-70ºC) and the Moderna vaccine needs to remain at -4ºF (-20ºC) to stay viable. If the systems that operate that supply chain—including the ones responsible for keeping the freezers online—are disrupted, the doses of the vaccine could become ineffective before they are administered.

The hacking attempts on the cold storage supply chain were first uncovered by IBM’s threat intelligence task force and targeted a cold chain platform operated by the Gavi vaccine alliance. The attack involved a phishing attempt to obtain login details for the cold supply chain systems. Currently, it’s unknown if the attackers were trying to steal trade secrets related to the cold supply chain—or if they were attempting to disrupt the supply chain itself.

Though it’s unknown who the hackers were, early signs point to a group with the possible backing of a nation state. Claire Zaboeva, a senior strategic cyber-threat analyst at IBM, said the attack “was an extremely well-researched and well-placed campaign. And that does potentially point to a very competent person or team.” As of now, it’s also unknown if the hackers succeeded in gaining access to the cold storage supply chain network.

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