S. Korea spy agency: N. Korea hackers targeted vaccine tech

FILE - In this June 16, 2017, file photo, North Korean men and women use computer terminals at the Sci-Tech Complex in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korean hackers attempted to steal information about coronavirus vaccines and treatments, South Korea's intelligence service said Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, but it denied a lawmaker's claim that vaccine maker Pfizer Inc. was targeted. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File)
FILE - In this June 16, 2017, file photo, North Korean men and women use computer terminals at the Sci-Tech Complex in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korean hackers attempted to steal information about coronavirus vaccines and treatments, South Korea's intelligence service said Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, but it denied a lawmaker's claim that vaccine maker Pfizer Inc. was targeted. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File) (Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

SEOUL – North Korean hackers attempted to steal information about coronavirus vaccines and treatments, South Korea’s intelligence service said Tuesday, but it denied a lawmaker's claim that vaccine maker Pfizer Inc. was targeted.

Earlier Tuesday, Ha Tae-keung, a member of parliament’s intelligence committee, told reporters that the National Intelligence Service told him and other lawmakers during a closed-door briefing that North Korea hacked Pfizer to obtain COVID-19 vaccine technology.

After Ha’s comments made headlines, the NIS said it didn’t mention any pharmaceutical company by name when it told lawmakers that North Korean hackers were going after coronavirus vaccine information. In an unusual rebuke, the NIS public affairs office called Ha’s comments “wrong.”

Ha stood by his claim when contacted by The Associated Press, saying the NIS documents he was shown said that “North Korea stole Pfizer (vaccine information) and attempted to steal (technology) from South Korean vaccine and pharmaceutical firms.” He said the lawmakers were required to return the documents at the end of the briefing.

Ha said the wording about Pfizer “was so clear that I didn’t even ask about that verbally” during the briefing.

The NIS, which has a mixed record on confirming developments in North Korea, rarely comments on North Korea-related information it provides to lawmakers at private briefings. Ha suggested the NIS was likely trying not to anger North Korea too much.

Kwon Bo-young, a public relations manager at Pfizer’s South Korean office, said in text message that it was checking Ha’s claim with its global headquarters.

Ha is one of the two executive secretaries of the intelligence committees whose responsibilities include relaying the content of private NIS briefings at parliament to journalists.