ORLANDO, Fla. — The United States’s top cybersecurity agency is warning cyber actors are targeting the COVID-19 cold chain. That’s the process of delivering and storing the coronavirus vaccine — so that we can all get vaccinated.
What You Need To Know
- Some Central Florida counties have their own special freezers for COVID-19 vaccines
- The Pfizer vaccine must be stored in special ultra-cold freezers
- Freezers, transportation will all have special security measures
- RELATED: Coronavirus Vaccine in Florida: Your Questions Answered
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The agency says hackers are using spear-phishing emails to potentially gain key technology information, or even potentially disrupt supply of the vaccine.
The Pfizer vaccine is stored in special ultra-cold freezers. Spectrum News 13 Watchdog team found out those are being heavily guarded in the region. County leaders wouldn't even tell us where they are located.
Orange County Public Safety Director Danny Banks is gearing up for what he says is one of the toughest tasks he's had to face since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic: transporting, storing, protecting and distributing the coveted COVID-19 vaccine.
“There is a lot riding on this," Banks said.
“We invested in the opportunities to not only secure the vaccine when it comes here but maintain it in a secure environment," Banks explained.
Banks would only say that there are ultra-cold freezers, purchased months ago by the county, spread out in different locations. The county shared pictures of the freezers where the vaccine will be stored, all under strict lock and key.
“There will only be certain people who have access to any vaccines that we get our hands on, and there will be a very isolated but secure network of people that are part of the team to distribute it to the various locations," Banks said.
Seminole County officials say they too are taking careful security precautions.
“There have been multiple conversations with the FBI, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the local sheriff's office to make sure the vaccine is transported safely and securely, placed into these ultra-cold freezers," said Alan Harris, director of emergency management for Seminole County. "Once that is done those freezers are locked secured with internet access, security alarms.”
If triggered, those alarms would immediately send a call, dispatching law enforcement to the secure locations where each of the county’s four freezers are stored.
Harris says they are also prepared to securely transport the vaccine.
"We have the Seminole County Sheriff's Office intel unit, which is the intelligence unit which looks at any type of threat. They are going to make sure the vaccine is transported safely where it needs to be stored," Harris said.
Security Expert Dave Benson says hackers may try and disrupt the “cold supply” chain in a number of ways.
“Maybe they are an anti-vaxxer group and they just don’t want people to have those vaccinations distributed, maybe it’s simply the criminal element," Benson said. "They are looking to glean the credential of the people they are sending it to so that they could pull off scam such as “ransomware”, which is possible, holding their computers and servers hostage.”
Benson says having a secure firewall will help prevent from hackers attempting to gain access to vaccine supplies through “phishing”. He says once they gain access they could potentially impact storage systems.
“Change passwords frequently, provide awareness training for the staff to be on the look out for phishing and spear-phishing expeditions where your being told to click on a link," Benson said. "Instead of trying to solicit money from you, they may be trying to individually solicit information or shut the system down or disrupt it."
So Benson says the less security measures are openly discussed, the less likely it will be for hackers to gain access to storage facilities.
“Because of the unique nature of some of these vaccines, there are some unique and in some cases proprietary technologies," Benson said.
That's information Banks says must be kept safe at all costs.
"The quicker we can get this vaccine to those who want it and it gives them an immunity from catching COVID-19, that is the ultimate prize," Banks said. "Our failure would be not to allow them that access as soon as we can do it for them."
Banks says right now Orange County is prepared to handle mass distribution of the vaccine, even though that likely won't happen until sometime next year.
Our Watchdog team checked with other counties in Central Florida about vaccine storage.
Osceola, Volusia, Sumter, Marion, Flagler and Brevard counties currently do not have freezers of their own, but are relying on others either from the Florida Department of Health or health care facilities to help with vaccine distribution.
Volusia County officials said they have ordered two ultra-cold freezers that are scheduled to be delivered next week.
Lake County does have freezers that they have secured and ready to store vaccine.