Recent Cyber Attacks Highlight Bunker Industry Vulnerability

by Ship & Bunker News Team
Monday October 13, 2014

Recent events have highlighted the growing threat of cybercrime to the bunker and shipping industries, Tradewinds reports.

Major fuel supplier World Fuel Services (WFS) recently fell victim to a bunkering scam reported to have cost the company an estimated $18 million.

Criminals impersonating the U.S. Defence Logistics Agency instigated a fake fuel supply tender to WFS.

The company then purchased and supplied the fuel at sea to a tanker off the Ivory Coast only to find, on presentation of its invoice, that the U.S. agency had no record of the transaction.

Maritime lawyer Stephen Simms, principal at Baltimore law firm Simms Showers, said that cyber criminals are targeting the bunkering sector with increasing frequency.

In an industry in which transactions are frequently done by e-mail, scammers were said to often target buyers of bunkers by impersonating sellers.

One example of this is where scammers send messages to buyers providing payment information for settlement of real transactions, but the bank details provided belong to the criminal not the legitimate seller in the transaction.

"It happens because there are people who understand the way payments work and data is used in the maritime industry, and they manipulate it to commit cybercrime," Simms told Tradewinds.

This type of crime requires industry, or even company, insiders, he said, but the industry is open to more technologically sophisticated attacks as well.

A report released in recent weeks by the U.S. Senate's Armed Services Committee found some 50 successful intrusions or "other cyber events" on U.S. Transportation Command (Transcom) contractors in the 12 months ending on 30 May 2013.

According to the Senate report, logistics providers to the U.S. Defense Department, including ship operators, are a prime target for foreign government cyber attacks because, in the event of major conflict, military resupply networks are of vital importance.

"It's clear now that hackers can also destroy or manipulate ship data," Denise Krepp, a former chief counsel for the U.S. Maritime Administration, told Tradewinds.

Such cyber attacks come to the industry in addition to other low-tech scams such as cappuccino bunkers and falsified oil fraud claims.