Cybersecurity

Fake Dot-Gov Webmail Used in Phishing Scam to Hack EPA and Census Staff

weerapat kiatdumrong/Shutterstock.com

A Nigerian man has admitted to compromising the email accounts of federal employees to order agency office products that he then sold on the black market, according to newly filed court papers.

Abiodun Adejohn and conspirators cheated government supply vendors out of almost $1 million worth of goods through the scheme.

The hackers broke into the accounts through a series of impersonations targeting Environmental Protection Agency and Census Bureau staff. First, they sent the employees "phishing" emails purporting to be from government agencies that contained links to seemingly legit agency webmail login pages. But the webpages actually stole usernames and passwords the employees entered. 

Many federal agencies are vulnerable to this type of mimicry because of poor cyber hygiene, according to a report released Wednesday. Analysts at the Online Trust Alliance found that many federal webpages and email addresses are missing encryption and verification protections that could prevent phishing scams. 

In the office supply racket, Adejohn and accomplices "created fraudulent Web pages ('Phishing Pages') that mirrored the legitimate webmail pages of several government agencies," including EPA and Census pages, according to papers filed Monday with the U.S. District Court for New Jersey. The offenders then sent phishing emails to trick the employees into visiting the bogus pages. 

The hackers "captured any login credentials that victim employees typed into the phishing pages, which were then transmitted to email accounts that they controlled," the court documents state. 

The identity theft began as early as 2012 and ended around December 2013, according to authorities. 

Adejohn and accomplices hijacked the email accounts to buy items in the employees’ names, repackaged the products in New Jersey and elsewhere, sent the goods to Nigeria and then sold them to rogue vendors for profit.

The investigation into these crimes involved many federal agency personnel, including special agents with the EPA Office of Inspector General, General Services Administration inspector general, and Commerce IG, the Pentagon's Criminal Investigative Service, as well as FBI agents.

Adejohn was arrested last September in Arizona. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. 

(Image via weerapat kiatdumrong/Shutterstock.com)

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