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Something Smells Phishy: Business Email Compromise (BEC) Attacks Are on the Rise

Key Points

  • Phishing attacks often involve deceptive emails, which may contain malware or ransomware designed to propagate when opened or clicked upon.
  • Business Email Compromise(BEC) is a phishing attack that targets organizations, often resulting in financial loss or data theft.
  • BEC attacks are typically conducted through social engineering techniques and involve attackers attempting to access sensitive corporate data or funds.
  • Awareness is key to thwarting the malicious intent behind phishing attacks. It is vital to educate and remind users of the importance of being vigilant when it comes to sharing information online.

Every year, hundreds of millions of people and businesses become victims of phishing scams, resulting in financial losses and the compromise of sensitive data. In some cases, these schemes can be motivated by monetary gain, while in others, they are designed to cause chaos and disruption within companies or entire nations. It is essential to be aware of the risks posed by phishing so that you can protect yourself and your organization.

Awareness is key to thwarting the malicious intent behind phishing attacks. Educating and reminding users of the importance of being vigilant when sharing information online and being aware of the potential threats posed by suspicious emails, links, and other sources is vital. Taking proactive steps to stay safe online can help ensure your information remains secure.

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What’s That Smell? A Phishing Attack

Phishing attacks occur when malicious actors attempt to gain sensitive information by disguising themselves as trustworthy entities. These attacks often take the form of deceptive emails, which may contain malware or ransomware designed to propagate when opened or clicked upon. To successfully carry out a phishing attack, malicious actors often employ social engineering techniques, such as sending seemingly legitimate emails from trusted sources.

Social engineering is a sophisticated psychological technique that exploits human behavior patterns to gain access to confidential information. One of the most common examples is opening emails that contain a subject line that is either intriguing or generates feelings of fear, urgency, or opportunity. These emails commonly include attachments that appear to be related to the workplace. Criminals use social engineering tactics to trick people into divulging their passwords, account numbers, or other sensitive data. Through this method, malicious actors can quickly gain access to confidential information.

A growing trend in phishing attacks is Business Email Compromise (BEC). BEC scams involve targeting businesses, government agencies, and other organizations with emails that appear to be from trusted sources. These emails may contain malicious links or attachments that can infect the target’s network and result in the loss of confidential data.

Phishy Business: Business Email Compromise(BEC) Scams Are on the Rise

Business Email Compromise (BEC) is a type of attack in which criminals target key personnel within organizations – typically those involved in finance and accounting. By impersonating a financial officer or CEO, these criminals use manipulative tactics to pressure employees into making money transfers to unauthorized accounts. Criminals may take the time to observe an executive’s email activity to gain insight into how their organization operates. As such, organizations must protect themselves against BEC by establishing robust security measures and training staff on how to spot and respond to suspicious requests.

The USA’s Internet Crime Complaints Centre (IC3)’s latest findings concluded that BEC scams had become increasingly concerning. In a March 2022 report, it was revealed that close to 20,000 BEC complaints had been filed in 2021, amounting to an estimated adjusted loss of $2.4 billion. This staggering figure indicates the proliferation of these scams and the devastating effects they can have on businesses. The need for vigilance and preventive measures against such malicious activity is paramount.

What Forms of Business Email Compromise Are Most Prevalent?

As you may already know, malicious actors may use various BEC attacks to target businesses.

CEO Fraud is a type of Business Email Compromise (BEC) attack in which an attacker successfully spoofs the email address of a company’s CEO. To do this, the attacker must carefully craft an email address that closely resembles the legitimate one or gain access to the CEO’s inbox and send emails from the genuine email account. Either method can perpetrate fraud and wreak havoc on an organization.

The attacker will use a spoofed email address to make an urgent request for a wire transfer from another less senior employee. This social engineering tactic is particularly effective because of its emphasis on urgency and seniority. Unfortunately, the attacker may not be satisfied with stealing funds; they may inject malware into the company’s infrastructure to gain access and cause more damage.

Bogus invoice scam attacks constitute another form of BEC threat. Here, the perpetrator will either spoof an executive’s email account or gain access to their mailbox. To carry out the attack, they will search for pending bills or invoices and craft a modified invoice. This revised invoice will include instructions to pay to an account controlled by the attacker. By manipulating this process, attackers can steal from unsuspecting businesses.

Another tactic of Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks involves impersonating attorneys. After the attackers have successfully masqueraded as a firm representing the company, they may solicit funds to settle a legal dispute or cover an overdue bill. This is a highly effective way of taking advantage of unsuspecting company employees and should be watched diligently. Be aware that no legitimate attorney would ever solicit funds in such a manner. Contact your company’s attorney immediately to verify if this situation should arise.

What Email Best Practices Can Help to Prevent a Business Email Compromise Attack?

To protect your business and its employees from BEC attacks, it is essential to remain vigilant by implementing various security procedures and email best practices. Ensure that all staff knows the importance of verifying the sender’s email address before responding to a message. When detecting malicious messages, keep an eye out for spelling mistakes or other irregularities, such as requests for urgent payments.

It is also essential to look for messages that appear to come from legitimate companies but are sent from an unrecognized email address. Businesses need to train all employees about BEC attacks and the potential consequences of falling victim to one. Knowing what tactics attackers may use can help staff to identify suspicious emails and take appropriate action if they encounter one. Additionally, businesses should ensure that they have robust email security solutions and that staff security awareness is updated.

Taking the appropriate preventative measures can help protect businesses from Business Email Compromise attacks and their devastating consequences. Organizations can significantly reduce their risk of becoming a victim of this malicious tactic by maintaining vigilance and training all staff on email safety. With the right measures in place, companies can protect their employees and assets from harm while continuing to conduct business operations safely and efficiently.

Ten Ways to Guard Against Business Email Compromise Attacks

No matter the form of BEC attack, the consequences can be dire. The following measures can be taken to protect your business against BEC attacks.

  1. Implement multi-factor authentication: By introducing a two-step verification process, you can reduce the chances of a malicious actor gaining access to your email accounts.
  2. Educate staff: Ensure all employees, from the highest level executive to the most junior staff member, know BEC attacks and how to spot them.
  3. Enable monitoring: Set up systems to monitor email accounts for suspicious activity.
  4. Review payment protocols: Ensure that your organization has clearly outlined protocols for handling payments and that all staff members are familiar with them.
  5. Reinforce security policies: Regularly review and update your organization’s security protocols.
  6. Use technology: Deploy anti-spam and malware protection tools to help detect malicious emails before they can cause harm.
  7. Utilize secure communication methods: Encourage encrypted communication channels such as S/MIME for sensitive emails.
  8. Deploy a firewall: Implementing a robust firewall can help stop malicious traffic from entering your network.
  9. Monitor outgoing emails: Implement a system for monitoring emails from your organization to ensure no malicious content is disseminated.
  10. Keep software up to date: Make sure that all software your organization uses is updated with the latest security patches.

Taking these steps can significantly reduce the chances of your business falling victim to a Business Email Compromise attack. With the proper security measures in place, your organization can remain safe and secure while continuing to operate efficiently.

Closing Thoughts

Business Email Compromise attacks pose a serious threat to organizations of all sizes. With the proper precautions, however, businesses can protect themselves from this malicious tactic and continue to conduct their operations confidently. By implementing multi-factor authentication, educating staff members on the warning signs of a BEC attack, utilizing secure communication channels, and keeping software up to date, organizations can significantly reduce their risk of falling victim to these malicious schemes.

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