- Researchers at security company Check Point have found suspect COVID-19 vaccines for sale on the dark web for up to $300.
- While they did not verify whether the vaccines offered were fake or genuine, the shots appear highly unlikely to be real.
- Check Point's head of product research told Business Insider there was a notable uptick in the amount of "vaccine" listings on the dark web following the FDA announcing it had granted emergency authorization to Pfizer and BioNTech's vaccine.
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Now that COVID-19 vaccines are becoming a reality, criminals on the dark web are cashing in.
A new report by security company Check Point Software found vendors on the dark web have been selling suspect coronavirus "vaccines" for up to $300.
Although Check Point's researchers did not order the purported vaccines, and so were unable to test their contents, the ads appeared suspicious, and some details suggested the items for sale were not genuine.
For example, researchers spoke to one vendor who claimed one person needed 14 doses of the "vaccine."
Pfizer and BioNTech's vaccine, which won emergency authorization in the US on December 12, only requires each patient to have two doses three weeks apart. Moderna's shot, which could be approved Friday, and Chinese company Sinovac's vaccine, which was mentioned in some dark web ads, are also two-dose vaccines.
Head of Product Research at Check Point Oded Vanunu told Business Insider that before the FDA announced it had given emergency authorization to Pfizer's shot, the company had only seen a "handful" of vaccine-selling ads, but once the news broke there was a sharp uptick.
"Right after the FDA approved the vaccine we started seeing between four to ten posts a day. Some are from the same seller, all the posts are averaging $250/300," said Vanunu.
He added that on the listings the researchers had spotted only Pfizer and Sinovac's vaccines had been mentioned by name, although most ads didn't mention a company name. Vanunu said that with Moderna's vaccine getting close to regulatory approval, he expects the number of listings to rise even further.
This isn't the first time opportunistic dark web sellers have claimed to be selling vaccines. In April researchers found vendors were already selling supposed vaccines, as well as a wide range of pandemic-related items including masks, ventilators, and even doses of "infected blood" - which the seller claimed could be "great for the coworker you don't like."
The worry is that now real vaccines are here, criminal activity could increase. Europol put out an early warning to this effect on December 4.
"When a COVID-19 vaccine does become available, it will likely not be available for sale online. However, fraudulent pharmaceutical products advertised as allegedly treating or preventing COVID-19 are already on sale, both offline and online," Europol said.
It added that the number of offers will "likely increase once a legitimate vaccine becomes available."
It also noted that organized crime groups could target vaccine supply chains for "hijacking and theft."
"There will always be a market for people who wouldn't necessarily have access to that medicine and wanted to protect themselves and their families," Amy Shortman, a pharmaceutical logistics expert at supply chain security company Overhaul, told the Financial Times.
"There will be, certainly globally, a lot of money that can be made by criminals," Shortman added.
IBM researchers said in a December 3 report the company had identified a large, co-ordinated hacking effort targeting the the coronavirus vaccine supply chain - although it suspected the hackers were state-backed, rather than being affiliated with organized crime.