The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Food and Drug Administration Office of Criminal Investigations (FDA OCI), and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) are raising alarm on business email compromise (BEC) attacks leading to the theft of shipments of food products and ingredients.
Typically used to steal money, BEC involves threat actors compromising email accounts at target companies and then targeting employees in charge of making payments with fraudulent emails that instruct them to wire transfer large amounts of money to bank accounts controlled by the attackers.
In the attacks targeting the food and agriculture sector, however, the threat actors are using spoofed emails and domains to impersonate legitimate companies and order food products without paying for them. In observed incidents, the attackers stole shipments valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Criminals may repackage stolen products for individual sale without regard for food safety regulations and sanitation practices, risking contamination or omitting necessary information about ingredients, allergens, or expiration dates. Counterfeit goods of lesser quality can damage a company’s reputation,” the agencies warn in a public advisory [PDF].
The attackers may create email accounts and websites that closely resemble those of legitimate companies or may use spearphishing and other techniques to compromise email accounts at a legitimate business and send fraudulent messages.
To add legitimacy to their claims, the attackers may use the names of actual officers or employees when communicating with victim businesses, and may use legitimate company logos in their fraudulent emails and documents.
According to the government agencies, threat actors may also falsify credit applications to trick the victim company into extending credit. The attackers provide the information of a legitimate company so that the target business ships the ordered products but never receives payment for them.
Once of the recently observed attacks targeted a US sugar supplier, which was asked to ship a truck full of sugar, but which identified the spoofed email and contacted the legitimate company for verification.
In another attack, a food distributor shipped two full truckloads of powdered milk after receiving an email from a spoofed account, but which used the real name of the chief financial officer of a multinational snack food and beverage company. The victim company had to pay $160,000 to the supplier.
In another instance, the attackers used the identity of a US company to place fraudulent orders for large shipments of powdered milk and other ingredients, causing losses of over $430,000.
In April, a US food manufacturer and supplier was targeted in a BEC attack spoofing the email of a legitimate company and made two shipments valued at more than $100,000 for which it never received payment. In February, a food manufacturer received orders valued at almost $600,000 from four different fraudulent companies and never received payment for them.
Food and agriculture companies are advised to independently verify the contact information of new vendors or customers, check links and email addresses for spoofing indicators, check the wording and grammar of all correspondence, verify changes to invoices and payment details, be wary of unexplained urgency regarding payments and orders, request clarification on suspicious requests, and educate employees on how to identify BEC scams.