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Cybersecurity and Attacks on Relief Groups

Hunger-Relief Group Unfortunately Successfully Attacked

Charles Parker, II

With the economy not doing exceptionally well, people’s wages for the year generally decreasing significantly, and the pandemic continuing at least for the short-term, not-for-profit budgets can be stretched rather thin. As these provide services based on their mission, these may need to be re-evaluated. One form of service desperately needed is food relief and pantries. One of these organizations is Philabundance. Of all the targets available across the vast expanse of the internet, the attackers chose this one.

Philabundance is a food relief organization located in the Philadelphia area. This is the region’s largest hunger relief group. The organization feeds over 100k people per week in the areas it has a presence. With the economic downturn, it shouldn’t be a big surprise this number of people served is almost double last year’s.

The attack itself took a widely used, yet simple, attack method. The attackers used phishing as the tool in the summer of 2020 to execute the attack. The organization is constructing a new building. The budget for this is $12M. This new building will house the Philabundance Community Kitchen. The attackers tied into this for the attack. They infiltrated the target system through a phishing campaign. Once in, a rule in the email system was set to block legitimate emails. The attackers were able to then spoof the construction company’s email with a fake invoice for $923,533. The organization paid the fake invoice on July 6, 2020. They discovered the problem when the construction company called for their money on July 24, 2020. After detecting the issue, the investigation began with full force. The effort indicated this was a one-time event. There was no staff information or data accessed. One area the organization specifically noted as not being affected was the online donation platform. There needed to be confidence in the system, so people would continue to donate.

Fortunately, the organization was able to cover the debt with their reserves. The hope is the insurance company will assist the organization in replenishing the lost funds. The FBI was contacted and is investigating. The organization hired a cybersecurity subject matter expert to review the incident. Internally, they have begun to update their security system with increased controls and more employee training.

Phishing can be tough to defend against. Yes, there are the easy instances to detect. These include emails with the misspelled words, grammar not quite making sense, and 85 people being emailed for a late arrival package, all with the same tracking number. More often, the amils encountered have become so much more sophisticated. To maintain the pace with these phishing email advances, the training needs to be updated. With how fast the industry continues to advance, this cannot be overlooked. Of course, the appropriate systems are in place to monitor for these.


6abc Digital Staff. (2020, December 1). Philabundance loses nearly $1 million in cyberattack. Retrieved from

6abc Digital Staff. (2020, December 2). Philabundance loses nearly $1 million in cyberattack. Retrieved from

Associated Press. (2020, December 3). Philadelphia hunger group loses nearly $1M in cyberattack. Retrieved from's%20largest%20hunger,Jones%20told%20The%20Philadelphia%20Inquirer

Brubaker, H. (2020, December 1). Philly hunger relief group philabundance lost nearly $1 million in cyberattack. Retrieved from (2020, December 1). Philabundance loses nearly $1M in cyberattack. Retrieved from

Philadelphia Sun Staff. (2020, December 11). Philadelphia hunger group loses nearly $1M in cyberattack. Retrieved from

Ralph, P. (2020, December 1). Philabundance falls victim to cyberattack, loses almost $1 million. Retrieved from

Schratwieser, D. (2020, December 1). Philabundance loses nearly $1M in cyberattack. Retrieved from


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