Thu | Dec 10, 2020 | 2:12 PM PST

With the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine right around the corner, it appears to have the potential to be one of the world's most desired medical breakthroughs in modern history.

There is little doubt there will be a mad scramble for distributing the vaccine, as well as people finding ways to get it themselves. 

It will hopefully be effective enough to end this global pandemic that we have all been suffering through for nearly a year now. But we are not in the clear yet.

Cyberattack on European Medicines Agency

Considering the nature of this pandemic and the degree to which it has impacted so many people, there is hope that the development and distribution of a vaccine would not be hindered by the likes of cybercriminals.

However, because of the increasingly high demand for a vaccine, an opportunity is presented to those lacking the moral judgement to evaluate the situation and wish to capitalize on a unique environment.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) recently released a short, vague statement regarding a cyberattack that occurred.

"EMA has been the subject of a cyberattack. The Agency has swiftly launched a full investigation, in close cooperation with law enforcement and other relevant entities.

EMA cannot provide additional details whilst the investigation is ongoing. Further information will be made available in due course."

And now we know what the statement was really saying: that someone was able to access Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine information.

COVID-19 data breach confirmed

Shortly after the announcement from the European Medicines Agency, BioNTech confirmed the breach at that agency was related to the COVID-19 vaccine.

"Today, we were informed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) that the agency has been subject to a cyber attack and that some documents relating to the regulatory submission for Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine candidate, BNT162b2, which has been stored on an EMA server, had been unlawfully accessed. It is important to note that no BioNTech or Pfizer systems have been breached in connection with this incident and we are unaware that any study participants have been identified through the data being accessed. At this time, we await further information about EMA's investigation and will respond appropriately and in accordance with EU law. EMA has assured us that the cyber attack will have no impact on the timeline for its review.

Given the critical public health considerations and the importance of transparency, we continue to provide clarity around all aspects of the vaccine development and regulatory processes. Our focus remains steadfast on working in close partnership with governments and regulators to bring our COVID-19 vaccine to people around the globe as safely and as efficiently as possible to help bring an end to this devastating pandemic."

It is wonderful to hear that the attack will have no impact on the timeline of the EU's review of the vaccine.

What remains to be seen is what kind of impact this will have on Pfizer and BioNTech, who has this information now, and what they will do with it.

COVID-19 cyberattack on the World Health Organization

This is another example of the high stakes for the information around the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier in 2020, SecureWorld interviewed a security researcher who discovered a live cyberattack against the World Health Organization. 

Listen to our SecureWorld Sessions podcast episode to learn what he uncovered.