Cybercriminals are continuing to target the COVID-19 vaccine cold chain, the means of delivering and storing vaccines at safe temperatures, with spear-phishing campaigns that leverage pharma and biomedical lures, according to an updated IBM X-Force report.
Threat actors are specifically targeting transportation, healthcare, IT, and electronics sectors. Researchers also discovered the attackers targeting government agencies and vendors that support public health entities, among other targets.
The latest research is an update of a December IBM X-Force report that shed light on widespread phishing tactics leveraged by cybercriminals against vaccine supply chain organizations and other healthcare sectors. IBM X-Force established a cyber task force at the beginning of the pandemic to track cyber threats targeting critical infrastructure organizations.
The global phishing campaign against cold storage supply chain members was first discovered in September, initially tied to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance’s Cold Chain Equipment Optimization Platform (CCEOP) program. The threat actors masqueraded as biomedical executives and targeted enterprise leadership members in the IT, finance, sales, and procurement departments, who would likely be involved with vaccine cold chain efforts.
The attackers sent the messages to multiple employees across the enterprise, with some messages purporting to be of help or support pages of the targeted enterprise. Instead, the messages contained malicious HTML attachments that opened locally on the devices and prompted victims to enter user credentials for access. This week’s update revealed the researchers have detected an additional 50 files tied to spear-phishing emails targeting at least 44 entities in 44 different countries, including the US and Canada.
“The expanded scope of precision targeting includes key organizations likely underpinning the transport, warehousing, storage, and ultimate distribution of vaccines. Spear-phishing attempts were associated with multiple executive activities and other roles,” researchers explained.
Particularly, the cybercriminals are targeting CEOs, purchasing managers, system administrators, presidents, heads of supply and logistics, finance directors, HR officers, and a host of other leaders within the enterprise organization.
IBM researchers first noticed the latest phishing campaign directly following the publication of the previous report. The malicious email was addressed to a German pharmaceutical and bioscience solutions company working on vaccine production and associated activities. The target also appeared to be a client of one of the original targets detected in the initial campaign.
“While our previous reporting featured direct targeting of supranational organizations, the energy and IT sectors across six nations, we believe this expansion to be consistent with the established attack pattern, and the campaign remains a deliberate and calculated threat,” wrote the researchers.