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 unauthorised online transfers or sending out confidential tax information.
Also known as “Business Email Compromise” and BEC is defined 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 email accounts through social engineering or computer intrusion techniques to conduct unauthorised transfers of funds.”
The Four Attack Methods
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.
2. Spear Phishing
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. A spear phishing email generally goes to one person or a small group of people who use that bank or service. Some form of personalisation is included – perhaps the person’s name, or the name of a client.
3. Executive Whaling
Here, the bad guys target top executives and administrators, typically to siphon off money from accounts or steal confidential data. Personalisation and detailed knowledge of the executive and the business are the hallmarks of this type of fraud.
4. Social Engineering
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 organisational personnel. This can include their contact information, connections, friends, ongoing business deals and more.
Who Are The Main Targets?
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 organisation, 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 organisations.
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 organisation.
Here Are Eight Prevention Steps
Many steps must dovetail closely together as part of an effective prevention program:
- Identify Your High-Risk Users
- Institute Technical Controls
- Set A Security Policy
- Develop Standard Procedures
- Cyber-Risk Planning
- Training For All Users
- Continuous Simulated Phishing
- Stay Aware of Red Flags