A hacking campaign that International Business Machines Corp. detected last year against organizations involved in the manufacturing, transportation and storage of COVID-19 vaccines was wider than initially understood and is now found to have targeted more than 40 companies in 14 countries, the company said Wednesday.
The attacks against the “cold chain” — a temperature-controlled supply chain — highlight the risk of intellectual property theft and potential disruption for stakeholders in the fragile process of shipping vaccines across long distances at stable temperatures, researchers from IBM’s X-Force cybersecurity group wrote in a blog post.
The company reported in December the discovery of the attacks, which involved hackers masquerading as representatives of Qingdao Haier Biomedical Co., a China-based company and one of the world’s largest makers of equipment to store and deliver materials at cold temperatures. IBM’s new research found that the targets were broader than originally detected, involving emails sent in early September that sought to trick people into opening malicious attachments that purported to contain requests for quotes for a solar-powered vaccine refrigerator and other equipment specific to the industry.
“Exploring the available emails, X-Force uncovered multiple features which likely signal the actor’s exceptional knowledge of the cold chain,” the researchers wrote. “While our previous reporting featured direct targeting of supranational organizations, the energy and IT sectors across six nations, we believe this expansion to be consistent with the established attack pattern, and the campaign remains a deliberate and calculated threat.”
IBM didn’t identify any suspected hacking group behind the attacks, but the company previously said it believed the campaign was the work of an unspecified nation-state. IBM didn’t say whether the attacks were effective in getting people to click on the malicious attachments.
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