AROUND a year ago, this column discussed the increasing concern being felt throughout the maritime world about the rise of computer hacking in the ports and shipping industry.
One of the most celebrated cases — up to then — was the successful efforts by drug traffickers to infiltrate the IT system at the port of Antwerp. Their aim was to not only locate containers carrying cocaine and heroin among legitimate cargoes from South America, but to authorise the release of the boxes to truckers.
Over a two-year period from June 2011 the hackers infiltrated computer networks in at least two companies operating in the port. They did so in phases, initially e-mailing malicious software to staff, who unwittingly activated it, allowing the hackers to access data remotely.
The port discovered the security breach and set up a firewall to prevent further attacks, so the hackers broke into the premises and fitted keylogging devices onto computers.
Key logging allows a hacker wireless access to keystrokes typed by computer users as well as screen grab; from monitors, so the hackers could basically follow what was being entered into the terminal’s system.Once inside the system, they accessed secure data giving them the location and security details of the target containers. They then manipulated the data to authorise a release for the boxes, which were duly picked up by truck and removed from the port.
The port only cottoned on to the thefts when audits of containers showed boxes had disappeared entirely. The reassuring news is the thieves were caught.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) recently warned that criminal gangs were fraudulently using the AMSA crest and stamp in an attempt to carry out a scam.
It involved letters purporting to be a certification or approval letter from AMSA’s “quality control department” for a particular style of fenders, designed for the berthing and mooring of a ship to another ship or berthing structure.
AMSA’s Ship Safety Division general manager Allan Schwartz said AMSA did not carry out testing or issue approval certification of this nature.
“It appears someone has gone to a lot of trouble to create this false documentation to dupe people into buying these products,” he said.
Frankly, I can’t imagine any genuine sale would have arisen from this scam, which makes me question its point. But then again, what is the point behind so many of the scam e-mails all of us receive, which try to lure us into downloading viruses which have no chance of monetary gain and are purely destructive?
Another development has been a warning to customers issued by Maersk Line to beware of fake e-mails from “@maresk.com“. These are scams which aim to make monetary gain — in other words a ‘phishing’ scam.
Phishing involves theft of personal information, installation of malicious software such as virus, and unwanted tracking of computer activities.
E-mails with the subject “urgent notification” were being sent from the fake email account <elena.jie.liu@ maresk.com>. The receiver is asked to pay their Maersk Line invoices to a new bank account.
Maersk’s advice to customers is to delete immediately and not to reply or transfer money to the mentioned account. The company also gave out some helpful advice to customers, namely:
- check the sender field carefully, it can often be an alternative e-mail address and be cautious if it does not show “@ maersk.com” or “@news.maerskline. com”;
- move the mouse over potential links and the site to which it links can be seen, do not open any links that do not contain “@maerskline.com“; and
- do not open executable attachments such as .exe files from untrusted sources.
Turning back to the international scene, insurance specialist ITIC has warned of continued attempts by fraudsters to target payments between shipping companies.
Speaking at the annual meeting of Federation of National Associations of Shipbrokers & Agents (FONASBA) in Gothenburg recently, ITIC claims director, Andrew Jamieson, explained that recent cases had seen variations on earlier scams.
In April, ITIC warned its members about a fraud scheme resulting in prefunded port charges being diverted to a fake bank account. In each case the owners received an email advising them that the port agent’s bank account was inoperable because of an annual audit. If the owners complied with the instructions, which came from an e-mail address very similar to the agent’s, the funds were stolen.
Recently, Jamieson explained, the fraudsters have changed their story. A ship manager received a message asking if money could be sent directly to the agent’s foreign exchange broker who “could secure banknotes which were in short supply in that part of the world”.
The ship manager queried the instruction by simply hitting the ‘reply’ button, and asked: “As we don’t know the broker, would it be possible to remit to your bank account as usual?”
If the ship manager had checked its records first and seen that the e-mail address did not correspond to the details it held for its principal, the attempted fraud would have been uncovered.
Some frauds have been foiled by alert staff. A Norwegian shipbroker sprung an attempt to steal a monthly hire payment by questioning a request to forward revised payment details. He telephoned his contact in the owner’s accounts department, who confirmed that the request was spurious.
Jamieson concluded his warning to the FONASBA meeting by saying:
“We appreciate the large number of payments processed by our members, but changes to account details should always be treated with suspicion. “Very few such changes are legitimate. ITIC’s advice is always to take separate steps to verify instructions to alter the destination payment.”
With shipping being a global business, and the above examples in mind. You need to be alert — the danger is getting closer to home.
Footnote: From time to time this column has tracked the global discussion over the number of containers that are lost at sea. The World Shipping Council (WSC) has released an update to its survey and the estimate of containers lost in this manner.
The earlier WSC survey, released in 2011, covered the years 2008-2010. The new survey includes data for years 2011-2013.
For the combined six-year period from 2008-2013, WSC estimates that there were 546 containers lost on average each year, not counting catastrophic events, and 1679 containers lost at sea each year including catastrophic events, such as the MOL Comfort and Rena disasters.
The report notes that 2011 and 2013 each saw rare catastrophic events that resulted in complete and total vessel losses.