Hackers access documents related to authorized COVID-19 vaccines

Attackers target the European Medicines Agency, which regulates vaccines, including Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 treatment.

Alfred Ng Senior Reporter / CNET News
Alfred Ng was a senior reporter for CNET News. He was raised in Brooklyn and previously worked on the New York Daily News's social media and breaking news teams.
Alfred Ng
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Hackers were able to get documents related to approved COVID-19 vaccines after they hit the European Medicines Agency with a cyberattack. The attackers "unlawfully accessed" regulatory documents related to the coronavirus vaccine candidate put forward by biotech firm BioNTech and partner pharmaceutical company Pfizer, BioNTech said in a statement Wednesday.

The European Medicines Agency, which is responsible for reviewing vaccine effectiveness, confirmed the hack in its own statement but declined to provide additional details during an ongoing investigation. The agency said the hack won't affect its timeline for release of the vaccine. 

BioNTech said that its own servers weren't affected and that it's unaware of a theft of any personal data belonging to its 43,500 test subjects being. 

It's unclear who was behind the cyberattack, but hackers from countries including China, Russia and North Korea have targeted pharmaceutical firms that are developing COVID-19 vaccines. 

The United Kingdom began its mass vaccination program on Tuesday, becoming the first country to start delivering the vaccine on a wide scale. The program, expected to reach 4 million people by the end of December, is using BioNTech and Pfizer's vaccine, which showed a 95% effectiveness rate during its clinical trials.

See also: Who will get COVID vaccines first? CDC priorities and everything else we know

BioNTech didn't respond to a request for comment on what details about the vaccine the hackers were able to access.

Hackers have also targeted how the vaccine will be rolled out -- posing as cold storage supply chain companies and aiming at distributors who will be providing the vaccines to millions of people. 

The UK's National Cyber Security Centre said that it is supporting vaccine research and helping its defense against hackers. It's still investigating the breach, the agency said in a statement.

"We are working with international partners to understand the impact of this incident affecting the EU's medicine regulator, but there is currently no evidence to suggest that the UK's medicine regulator has been affected," the agency said.

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