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The CFO resigned
CEO Fraud is a scam in which cybercriminals spoof company email accounts and impersonate executives to try and fool an employee in accounting or HR into executing unauthorized wire transfers, or sending out confidential tax information.
The FBI calls this type of scam "Business Email Compromise" and defines BEC as “a sophisticated scam targeting businesses working with foreign suppliers and/or businesses that regularly perform wire transfer payments. The scam is carried out by compromising legitimate business e-mail accounts through social engineering or computer intrusion techniques to conduct unauthorized transfers of funds.”
In the time period from January 2015 to June 2016, the FBI reported a 1300% rise in losses from this type of fraud. Most victims are in the US (all 50 states), but companies in 100 other countries have also reported incidents. While the fraudulent transfers have been sent to 79 countries, most end up in China and Hong Kong. Unless the fraud is spotted within 24 hours, the chances of recovery are small.
Understanding the different attack vectors for this type of crime is key when it comes to prevention. This is how the bad guys do it:
Phishing emails are sent to large numbers of users simultaneously in an attempt to “fish” sensitive information by posing as reputable sources—often with legitimate-looking logos attached. Banks, credit card providers, delivery firms, law enforcement, and the IRS are a few of the common ones. A phishing campaign typically shoots out emails to huge numbers of users. Most of them are to people who don’t use that bank, for example, but by sheer weight of numbers, these emails arrive at a certain percentage of likely candidates.
This is a much more focused form of phishing. The cybercriminal has either studied up on the group or has gleaned data from social media sites to con users. The email generally goes to one person or a small group of people who use that bank or service. Some form of personalization is included – perhaps the person’s name, or the name of a client.
Here, the bad guys target top executives and administrators, typically to siphon off money from accounts or steal confidential data. Personalization and detailed knowledge of the executive and the business are the hallmarks of this type of fraud.
Within a security context, social engineering means the use of psychological manipulation to trick people into divulging confidential information or providing access to funds. The art of social engineering might include mining information from social media sites. LinkedIn, Facebook and other venues provide a wealth of information about organizational personnel. This can include their contact information, connections, friends, ongoing business deals and more.
The CEO isn't always the one in a criminal’s crosshairs. There are four other groups of employees considered valuable targets given their roles and access to funds/information:
The finance department is especially vulnerable in companies that regularly engage in large wire transfers. All too often, sloppy internal policies only demand an email from the CEO or other senior person to initiate the transfer. Cybercriminals usually gain entry via phishing, spend a few months doing recon and formulate a plan. They mirror the usual wire transfer authorization protocols, hijack a relevant email account and send the request to the appropriate person in finance to transmit the funds. As well as the CFO, this might be anyone in accounts that is authorized to transfer funds.
Human Resources represents a wonderfully open highway into the modern enterprise. After all, it has access to every person in the organization, manages the employee database and is in charge of recruitment. As such, a major function is to open résumés from thousands of potential applicants. All the cybercriminals need to do is include spyware inside a résumé and they can surreptitiously begin their early data gathering activities. In addition, W2 and PII scams have become more commonplace. HR receives requests from spoofed emails and ends up sending employee information such as social security numbers and employee email addresses to criminal organizations.
Every member of the executive team can be considered a high-value target. Many possess some kind of financial authority. If their email accounts are hacked, it generally provides cybercriminals access to all kinds of confidential information, not to mention intelligence on the type of deals that may be ongoing. Thus executive accounts must receive particular attention from a security perspective.
The IT manager and IT personnel with authority over access controls, password management and email accounts are further high-value targets. If their credentials can be hacked, they gain entry to every part of the organization.
Virus and malware defense has long been viewed as a purely IT problem. Some organizations do appoint Chief Information Security Officers (CISO), however information security is often viewed as a challenge that lies well below board or C-level attention.
The events of recent years have highlighted the danger of this viewpoint. With the FBI warning corporations that they are at risk and so many high-profile victims in the news, organizations, led by their CEO, must integrate cyber risk management into day-to-day operations.
Additionally, companies must take reasonable measures to prevent cyber-incidents and mitigate the impact of inevitable breaches. The concept of acting “reasonably” is used in many state and federal laws in the United States, Australia, and other countries. Blaming something on IT or a member of staff is no defense. CEOs are responsible to restore normal operations after a data breach and ensure that company assets and the company's reputation are protected. Failure to do so can open the door to legal action.
Let’s put it in these terms: a cyber breach could potentially cause the loss of a bid on a large contract, could compromise intellectual property (IP) and loss of revenue, to name just a few of the repercussions. That places cybersecurity firmly at the top of the organizational chart, similar to all other forms of corporate risk.
Most efforts towards risk mitigation concentrate on technology. However, these technology safeguards must be supported by what is known as the human firewall. Regardless of how well the defense perimeter is designed the bad guys will always find a way in. They know that employees are the weakest link in any IT system. Thus, cybercriminals continue to rely on phishing and other tricks from the social engineering playbook. The following is a MINIMUM of what to have in place to protect yourself:
Did you know that 91% of successful data breaches started with a spear-phishing attack? Find out what percentage of your employees are Phish-prone™ with your free phishing security test. Find out which percentage of your employees are phish prone today.
Why? If you don't do it yourself, the bad guys will. Take the first step now to significantly improve your organization’s defenses against cybercrime.