South Korea says it foiled North Korea attempt to hack its COVID-19 vaccine makers


South Korea’s intelligence agency foiled North Korean attempts to hack into South Korean companies developing coronavirus vaccines, lawmakers said on Friday.

Ha Tae-keung, a member of the parliamentary intelligence committee, said after being briefed by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) that the agency did not specify how many and which drug makers were targeted but said there was no damage from the hacking attempts.

The revelation came after Microsoft said early this month that hackers working for the Russian and North Korean governments have tried to break into the networks of seven pharmaceutical companies and vaccine researchers in Canada, France, India, South Korea and the United States.

The closed-door briefings by the NIS, which shares intelligence and analysis with counterparts among key neighbours, provide rare public access to information about the reclusive North.

Ha and another member Kim Byung-kee said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had taken some “unreasonable” actions due to COVID-19 “paranoia.”

They said those actions included banning fishing and salt production because of fears that seawater might have been contaminated with the virus, and stranding some 110,000 tons of rice from China in the northeastern Chinese port of Dalian.

“He has been expressing emotional excess, anger and signs of stress, and increasingly giving unreasonable orders,” Ha told reporters.

North Korea has not confirmed any coronavirus infection, but the NIS had said an outbreak there cannot be ruled out as the country had active trade and people-to-people exchanges with China before closing the border in late January.

Pyongyang has not issued any official response to the recent U.S. presidential election, but the government has urged all its overseas diplomatic missions to exercise caution and not “provoke” the United States, lawmaker Kim said.

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