12057871866?profile=RESIZE_400xRed Sky Alliance monthly queries our backend databases, identifying all new data containing Motor Vessel (MV) and Motor Tanker (MT) in the subject line of malicious emails.  Malicious actors use emails with Motor Vessel (MV) or Motor Tanker (MT) in the subject line as a lure to entice users in the maritime industry to open emails containing malicious attachments.  Red Sky Alliance is providing this list of Motor Vessels in which we directly observed the vessel being impersonated, with associated malicious emails.  The identified emails attempted to deliver malware or phishing links to compromise the vessels, parent companies, ports and the entire Transportation Supply Chain.  Specific vessel names or key words in the transportation supply chain can be queried using our two services and tools.  Full report available here.

Significant Vessel Keys Words:









Figure 1. Map displaying location of attacker domains



Figure 2. Map displaying location of victim domains



Figure 3. Distribution of attacker and target domains



Common Transportation Attack Chain Overview



Table 1: List of dates, subject lines, malware detections, and sender data seen in Red Sky Alliance’s malicious email collection from last 30 days. Information extrapolated from the Subject Line. Full table attached.


Five prevalent subject lines seen in our recent query are as follows:

  • RFQ For a Onshore & Offshore New Energy Project
  • RE: Zakher Marine - Pump Spares – RFQ
  • Re: TBC PURPOSE: Vessel optimal Route

12428870457?profile=RESIZE_584xThere are several themes generally represented by the subject lines seen.  Specifically, in this month’s query we see quote requests, route confirmations, and load and shipment notifications.  These emails are seen to utilize common terminology to establish credibility.  This credibility can make for a solid lure.  In terms of the sending emails themselves, we saw shipping companies, a healthcare delivery network, a packaging materials manufacturer, a university, and a supply chain management organization.

In addition to impersonating these companies and various types of communication, these emails are also seen to be impersonating specific vessels.  Some of the vessels we have seen being impersonated by these emails in recent weeks include the following:

  • CMA CGM Thalassa (pictured left), which is a container ship currently en route to Singapore and is sailing under the flag of Malta.
  • Palermo (pictured below), which is a container ship currently en route to Shuwaikh, Kuwait and is sailing under the flag of Barbados.
  • Maersk Altair, which is a container ship currently en route to Xiamen, China and is sailing under the flag of Singapore.
  • X-Press Nuptse, which is a container ship currently en route to Chittagong, Bangladesh and is sailing under the flag of Liberia.

As one might expect, fabricating a vessel name is not difficult, but using a real ship’s name does not take much effort and could result in an increase of credibility.

The top five most prevalent malware detections associated with these emails are as follows:

  • HEUR_PDFEXP.B – TrendMicro
  • Win32:TrojanX-gen [Trj] – AVG
  • Generic.D21BCBD5 [many] – Arcabit
  • Zmutzy.819 – ALYac
  • HEUR:Trojan-Downloader.MSOffice.SLoad.gen - ZoneAlarm



HEUR_PDFEXP.B is a detection we have been seeing off and on since 2017, with the highest detection numbers occurring in the fall of 2017.  This detection is associated with PDF files containing Javascript that may or may not be inherently malicious.  HEUR:Trojan-Downloader.MSOffice.SLoad.gen we have seen fairly consistently since 2018, with the highest detection levels occurring in the spring of 2021.  This detection refers to malicious office documents that intend to download additional malicious payloads onto a user’s machine.  Multiple generic trojans are also represented, which can be employed for a variety of purposes such as initiating ransomware attacks, information stealing, downloading payloads, etc.

Vessel Flag of Convenience – All shipping size vessels which fall under international law, must fly a country flag where it is registered.  The flag of convenience (FOC) is the system that allows the vessel owners to avoid burdensome international legal regulations.  When the ships are involved in this system, they are not connected to the laws of the countries where they are registered.  The top five (5) flag states with the largest number of registered vessels are: Panama, Liberia, Marshall Islands, Hong Kong and Singapore.[1] 



Supply Chain Report

Supply Chain Spoofing:  In 2023, our analyst began monitoring the transportation supply chain, as often these transportation companies are used to gain cyber access to valuable targets.  Maritime shipping is just one portion of the entire commercial transportation supply chain.  By querying our data with numerous important supply chain keywords, we can also extract some more general supply chain related malicious emails.  The five most prevalent subject lines seen with a general supply chain focus are as follows:

  • invoice reconciliation
  • Shipping invoice
  • DHL Express Shipment Confirmation
  • Re: Invoice copy
  • Invoice for the BL number MEDUPX4341772

Much like maritime related emails, we can see several themes emerge in the subject lines of these malicious emails.  Most prevalently in the last month, we can see invoice notifications, purchase orders, and shipping document notifications.  These emails can also contain impersonations of companies in many industries.  In our most recent query, we saw multiple shipping companies, a law firm on the Isle of Jersey (UK), a Romanian canned meat distributor, and a presentation management company.

The five most prevalent detections associated with these emails are as follows:

  • RTF.Doc – Ikarus
  • Trojan:O97M/Phish!MSR – Microsoft
  • HTML.Doc – Ikarus
  • PDF/Agent.97AC!tr – Fortinet
  • AutoIt/Injector.AAD!tr - Fortinet

The common pattern displayed by these detections when examining the wider scope of supply chain related emails is that detections tend to be centered around phishing attacks.  This is demonstrated by the stout presence of detections like Phishing.HTML.Doc or Trojan:O97M/Phish!MSR, which we have been seeing since 2016 and can often be detected as a variety of other forms depending on the detection engine.  Phishing.RTF.Doc detections are relatively new in our system and likely refer to RTF documents being attached to emails that take advantage of RTF template injection or similar techniques for phishing attacks.  PDF/Agent detections we have seen since 2017 refer to PDF files that contain embedded malicious code.  AutoIt/Injector trojans we have seen since 2017 with the highest detection level occurring between 2019 and 2021. 


Table 2: List of dates, subject lines, malware detections, and sender data seen in Red Sky Alliance’s malicious email collection from last 30 days. Information extrapolated from the Subject Line.  Full table attached.

Closing:  These analytical results illustrate how a recipient could be fooled into opening an infected email and what sorts of dangers can accompany these emails.  It is common for attackers to specifically target pieces of a company’s supply chain to build up cyber-attacks targeting larger companies.   Doing so could cause the recipient to become an infected member of the maritime supply chain and thus possibly infect victim vessels, port facilities and/or shore companies in the marine, agricultural, and other industries with additional malware.  With approximately 90% of products being shipped in the maritime related supply chain, this is a serious cyber matter.  

Fraudulent emails designed to make recipients hand over sensitive information, extort money, or trigger malware installation on shore-based or vessel IT networks remains one of the biggest day-to-day cyber threats facing the maritime industry and associated transportation supply line.   These threats often carry a financial liability to one or all those involved in the Transportation Supply Chain.  Preventative cyber protection offers a strong first-line defense by preventing deceptive messages from ever reaching staff inboxes, but malicious hackers are daily developing new techniques to evade current detection.  This supports our recommendation of daily cyber diligence.  

The more convincing an email appears, the greater the chance employees will fall victim to a scam.   To address this residual risk, software-based protection should be treated as one constituent of a wider strategy that also encompasses the human-element as well as organizational workflows and procedures.

It is important to:

  • Train all levels of the marine supply chain to realize they are under constant cyber-attack.
  • Emphasize maintaining constant attention to real-world cyber consequences of careless cyber practices or general inattentiveness.
  • Provide practical guidance on how to identify a potential phishing attempt.
  • Use direct communication to verify emails and supply chain email communication.

About Red Sky Alliance





Red Sky Alliance strongly recommends ongoing monitoring from both internal and external perspectives.  Internal monitoring is common practice.  However, external threats are often overlooked and can represent an early warning of impending cyber-attacks.  Red Sky Alliance can provide both internal monitoring in tandem with RedXray notifications on external threats to include, botnet activity, public data breaches, phishing, fraud, and general targeting.  All emails connected to the Transportation Supply Chain, to include Vessels, should be viewed with scrutiny.

Red Sky Alliance is in New Boston, NH USA. We are a Cyber Threat Analysis and Intelligence Service organization.  We have been tracking vessel impersonation for over 6 years (and maintain historical reports).  For questions, comments or assistance, please contact our lab directly at 1-844-492-7225, or feedback@wapacklabs.com

Weekly Cyber Intelligence Briefings: 

REDSHORTS - Weekly Cyber Intelligence Briefings


[1] https://naylorlaw.com/blog/flag-of-convenience/

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