Red 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. Full report download 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
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.
The five most common subject lines seen in our recent query are as follows:
- Urgent offer - Include freight price to - (Northern Orange County, California)
- VSL: MV WINNING OCEAN, ORDER: MAR-A0303B
- RE:SOA Ocean Bright Logistics.
- M/V MODY M - DISCHARGING SALT IN BULK 9820 MT - PORT PDA
- NEED URGENT PDA FOR DISCHARGING 36,000 MT BAGGED SUGAR
There are several themes represented by the subject lines seen. Specifically, we can see order invoices, itinerary status notifications, and discharge requests. 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 can see impersonations of companies in many industries. Notably, we see ship management and logistics companies in this month’s data, but common impersonations may include shipping and transport companies along with businesses in a wide range of areas like home building or universities, or even government entities.
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 being impersonated by these emails include the following:
- Winning Ocean (pictured above), which is a bulk carrier that is “currently en route to Fangcheng, China” and is sailing under the flag of Liberia.
- Sun Grace, which is a bulk carrier that is “currently en route to Shanghai, China” and is sailing under the flag of Korea.
- Spinnaker SW (pictured below), which is a bulk carrier that is “currently en route to Zhangzhou, China” and is sailing under the flag of Panama.
- SCSC Luck, which is a general cargo ship that is “currently en route to Lubuk Gaung, Indonesia” and is sailing under the flag of Hong Kong.
- Oak Harbour, which is a bulk carrier that is “currently en route to Dalian Anchorage” and is sailing under the flag of Hong Kong.
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:
- Win32:PWSX-gen [Trj] – AVG
- HEUR:Trojan.Script.Generic – ZoneAlarm
- OLE:CVE-2017-11882-B [Expl] – Avast
- Gen:Variant.Babar.161191 – BitDefender
- Gen:Variant.MSILKrypt.4 - BitDefender
These emails are typically used for the propagation of generic trojans and their variants, like we see with Win32:PWSX-gen, HEUR:Trojan.Script.Generic, Gen:Variant.Babar.161191, and Gen:Variant.MSILKrypt.4. MSILKrypt variants we have been seeing since early 2017. These malware strains are generally noted for their information stealing and keylogging functions. Babar variants we have been seeing since 2018. Curiously, the appearance of this detection occurs most often during the summer months. We have seen a relatively steady level of Win32:PWSX-gen detections since 2018. CVE-2017-11882 related detections we have been seeing since the summer of 2019, but the heaviest level of activity did not begin until summer of 2021. This CVE relates to a memory vulnerability in the equation editor for older versions of Microsoft Office which could be exploited to enable remote code execution.
Vessel Flag of Convenience – All shipping size vessels which fall under international law, must fly a country flag were 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 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.
Supply Chain Spoofing
In 2023, our analyst began looking into 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 1923119-6 (S/O Client No: 198943) From Active Electrical
- New DHL Shipment Document Arrival Notice / Shipping Documents / Original BL, Invoice & Packing List
- Customer Invoice - CAUC2135354
- purchase order
- DHL TRACKING NUMBER // ORIGINAL SCAN DOCUMENTS // VERIFY BL COPY FOR CHECKING // SHIPMENT ADVISE AGAINST OUR CONTRACT NO- WGCBD-141-21/22 (02X40\" 28LBS/1PLY)
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.
Much like the maritime related emails, we can see a number of themes emerge in the subject lines of these malicious emails. Specifically, we can see invoices, shipment and delivery notifications, packaging lists, and purchase orders. In terms of the sending emails, we can see the attempted impersonation or spoofing of a variety of different senders, such as office supply stores, a European commercial bank, shipping companies, the Highlands County Florida webpage, derivatives clearing organizations, and Kuwaiti heavy machinery suppliers.
The five most prevalent detections associated with these emails are as follows:
- HTML.Doc – Ikarus
- HEUR:Trojan.Script.Generic – ZoneAlarm
- HTMLUnescape – Zoner
- Script.GenericKDZ.20934 – BitDefender
- HTML:PhishingMS-AHK [Phish] - AVG
Continuing with what was noticed in the last report, this month’s supply chain detections have a clear focus on propagating phishing malware. Some of the detections listed are repeat detections from last month, including Phishing.HTML.Doc and Heur.HTMLUnescape. These malware will manifest as fraudulent emails, web pages, or other software for the purpose of luring the user into exposing personal information like usernames, passwords, or even financial information. HTML:PhishingMS-AHK is a slight variant to a detection we noted last month (HTML:PhishingMS-AHN), which we have only been seeing since September of 2022. Trojan.Script.GenericKDZ detections we have been seeing since the summer of 2020.
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 to cyber-attacks on the 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 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 developing new techniques to evade current detection daily.
The more convincing an email appears, the greater the chance employees will fall for 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 5 years (and maintain historical reports) . For questions, comments or assistance, please contact the lab directly at 1-844-492-7225, or email@example.com
- Reporting: https://www.redskyalliance.org/
- Website: https://www.wapacklabs.com/
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/64265941
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