It’s been a tough few months for the healthcare industry (and for all of us in general). While we’ve reported on recent Q3 ransomware campaigns targeting the healthcare industry, a new campaign targeting COVID-19 vaccine supply chain partners has emerged.

Last week, IBM X-Force reported on a campaign targeting the healthcare industry seeking to capitalize on ongoing vaccine work. The threat actors launched a phishing campaign impersonating an executive from cold chain provider Haier Biomedical, an established member of the COVID-19 vaccine supply chain critical to transport logistics and distribution of the vaccine.

Impersonating a Haier Biomedical employee, the threat actors sent phishing emails to other organizations believed to be working on the vaccine storage and transportation supply chain. Targets included the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Taxation and Customs Union, as well as companies pertaining to the energy, manufacturing, software, and internet security solutions sectors.

While it’s the intention of the threat actors is unknown, it’s clear that assuming the identity of a legitimate COVID-19 vaccine partner company and member of the Cold Chain Equipment Optimization Platform (CCEOP) increases the probability of an email opening and less suspicion around the sender’s authenticity. Impersonation is an incredibly common attacker tactic, both for financial and geopoliticial threat actor motives.

The Financial Motive: Business Email Compromise

Executive impersonation is not a new tactic. As far back as 2016, the Financial Times estimated that $2 billion dollars had been lost CEO email scams. These scams typically succeed by targeting and intimidating lower-level employees to release sensitive data or transfer funds via time-pressured email requests.  According to the 2020 FBI IC3 Report, Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks comprised the highest amount of reported financial loss, costing $1.8 billion in 2019 alone.

Worse still, the pandemic has provided more convincing lures and reasons for errant behavior. The FBI gave the following example from 2020:

A financial institution received an email allegedly from the CEO of a company, who had previously scheduled a transfer of $1 million, requesting that the transfer date be moved up and the recipient account be changed “due to the Coronavirus outbreak and quarantine processes and precautions.” The email address used by the fraudsters was almost identical to the CEO’s actual email address with only one letter changed.

The Geopolitical Motive

But, as the IBM X-Force research shows, impersonation is about more than BEC fraud. Impersonating key individuals is also a proven technique for nation-state groups. 

In August 2020, ClearSky reported the Iranian state-associated threat group APT35 (AKA Charming Kitten) have been using LinkedIn and WhatsApp messaging to approach their targets, often duping their victims into opening a malicious link. 

More recently, at the end of November, AFP reported on fake Twitter accounts impersonating a Thai pro-democracy group with a highly convincing fake account shown below (simply swapping out the letter O for the number 0.

Using SearchLight (now ReliaQuest’s GreyMatter Digital Risk Protection) to Proactively Detect and Takedown Impersonators

Beyond telling employees to scrutinize email senders and providing a “COVID-19 impersonating accounts” warning to customers, how can you better protect your brand?

Hundreds of organizations rely on Digital Shadows SearchLight (now ReliaQuest GreyMatter DRP)™ to detect both impersonating company profiles and impersonating employee profiles, with near real-time detection of impersonating domains, mobile apps, and accounts and a combination of our proprietary search engine and human analysts to eliminate false positives.

If you would like to learn more about how SearchLight (now ReliaQuest’s GreyMatter Digital Risk Protection) can help, read our Detecting Fake Social Media Profiles Case Study here.