IBM’s cybersecurity team has uncovered a global phishing campaign that targets organizations associated with COVID-19 vaccine supply chains.
Specifically, attackers are targeting the cold chain – a component of the vaccine supply chain that preserves vaccines in temperature-controlled environments during transportation and in storage, according to IBM.
This “calculated operation” began in September and spanned across six countries, targeting organizations like Gavi and the Vaccine Alliance’s Cold Chain Equipment Optimization Platform (CCEOP) program.
According to IBM, the threat actor impersonated a business executive from Haier Biomedical, a member of the COVID-19 vaccine supply chain and supplier for the CCEOP program and purported to be the world’s only complete cold chain provider.
That company, based in China, was probably targeted because they are currently acting as a qualified supplier for the CCEOP program in coordination with the World health Organization and other international agencies.
“It is highly likely that the adversary strategically chose to impersonate Haier Biomedical because it is purported to be the world’s only complete cold chain provider,” IBM’s report says. “Likewise, the Haier Biomedical employee who is purported to be sending these emails would likely be associated with Haier Biomedical’s cold chain distribution operations based on his role, which is listed in the email signature block.”
Once disguised as the employee, the actor sent phishing emails to other organizations within the COVID-19 cold chain in an attempt to harvest credentials, gain future unauthorized access to corporate networks and information about vaccine distribution.
According to IBM, targets include the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Taxation and Customs Union along with energy, manufacturing, and technology organizations headquartered around the world.
These attacks were conducted with spear-phishing emails sent to executives in sales, procurement, IT, and finance positions who were likely involved in efforts to support a vaccine cold chain, IBM reports.
It’s unclear if the phishing campaign was successful, but IBM fears that the campaign could result in the harvesting of credentials that could give attackers more access into the vaccine supply chain and then move laterally through victim networks and collect additional information for future attacks.
IBM’s report prompted the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) to issue a warning, saying the emails pose as requests for quotations and participation in a vaccine program.
CISA, part of the Department of Homeland Security, is warning U.S. companies involved in Operation Warp Speed – the U.S. initiative to develop and distribute a vaccine quickly – and other aspects of vaccine development and distribution to review IBM’s report and refresh themselves on cybersecurity best practices and how to avoid social engineering attacks.