Protecting your Business from Email Compromise Attacks

Protecting your Business from Email Compromise Attacks

Kevin Kembel
Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks are on the rise, but that doesn’t mean your business has to be vulnerable. Learn about the steps you can take to protect your company from these malicious cyberattacks.

Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks are one of the most damaging and costly cyber threats out there. As the name suggests, they involve taking control of a legitimate business email account by either infiltrating it or impersonating the owner in order to extract sensitive information. The goal is usually financial gain or data theft. Unfortunately, if not addressed swiftly and properly, these attacks can cause significant losses for any enterprise.

Don’t worry! In this blog post, we will explain what BEC is, how it works, and most importantly — how to prevent a BEC attack and protect your company from potential data breaches and financial losses.

What is a Business Email Compromise Attack (BEC)?

Business email compromise (BEC) is a type of email cyber crime scam in which an attacker targets a business to defraud the company. BEC scams have exposed organizations to billions of dollars in potential losses, making it a large and growing problem that affects organizations of all sizes across every industry around the world. This type of attack is difficult to detect and prevent, especially with legacy tools, point products and native cloud platform defences.

Email account compromise (EAC), or email account takeover, is another related threat that is becoming increasingly common in an era of cloud-based infrastructure. EAC is often associated with BEC because compromised accounts are used in a growing number of BEC-like scams, though it can also be the basis for other kinds of cyber attacks. Organizations need to be aware of both BEC and EAC threats and take steps to protect themselves from these types of attacks by implementing robust security measures such as multi-factor authentication, encryption, and monitoring for suspicious activity.

How Do BEC Attacks Work?

BEC attacks are a type of cybercrime that relies on social engineering techniques to trick people into transferring money or other sensitive information. The attacker poses as someone the recipient should trust, such as a colleague, boss or vendor, and requests a wire transfer, payroll diversion or change in banking details for future payments. BEC attacks are difficult to detect because they don’t use malware or malicious URLs that can be analyzed with standard cyber defences. Instead, they rely on impersonation and other social engineering tactics to deceive the target.

Messages may appear to be legitimate emails, but they are carefully crafted by threat actors and can cost businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars, the control of their social media accounts, or the security of banking information.  

Manually investigating and remediating these attacks is difficult and time consuming due to their targeted nature and use of social engineering. Fraudulent emails are hard to spot as attackers often employ domain spoofing and lookalike domains in order to appear legitimate. It is important for organizations to be aware of these tactics in order to protect themselves from BEC scams.

Security measures such as two-factor authentication can help reduce the risk of falling victim to these types of attacks.

Types of Business Email Compromise

Business Email Compromise (BEC) is a type of cybercrime that targets businesses and organizations through email. It is a form of fraud where attackers pose as legitimate entities in order to gain access to sensitive information or financial resources. The FBI defines five major types of BEC scams, including CEO Fraud, Account Compromise, Fake Invoice Schemes, Attorney Impersonation, and Data Theft.

CEO Fraud is one of the most common types of BEC scams. In this scam, the attacker poses as an executive or CEO of a company and requests funds to be transferred to an account controlled by the attacker. Account Compromise is another type of BEC scam where an employee's email account is hacked and used to request payments to vendors which are then sent to fraudulent bank accounts owned by the attacker. False Invoice Scheme involves attackers targeting foreign suppliers by pretending to be them and requesting fund transfers to fraudulent accounts. Attorney Impersonation involves scammers posing as attorneys in order to gain access to confidential information or financial resources from their victims. Lastly, Data Theft involves attackers stealing confidential data such as customer records or intellectual property from their victims.

Phases of Business Email Compromise

1) Email List Targeting - The first step in a successful email attack is to build a targeted list of email addresses. Attackers use various tactics to compile this list, such as mining LinkedIn profiles for contact information or sifting through business email databases. They may also search through websites for contact information, including personal and professional sites. This allows them to create a comprehensive list of potential targets that they can then use to launch their attack.

Once the attackers have compiled their list of emails, they can begin crafting messages tailored specifically to each individual on the list. They may include malicious links or attachments in these messages, which can be used to gain access to sensitive data or even take control of the target’s computer system. The attackers may also use social engineering techniques such as phishing emails in order to trick victims into revealing confidential information or downloading malicious software. By targeting specific individuals with tailored messages, attackers are able to increase their chances of success and maximize the damage caused by their attack.  

2) Launch Attack - The second phase of a BEC attack is the launch attack. This is when attackers begin sending out mass emails to their targets. The emails are designed to appear legitimate and often contain malicious links or attachments that can be used to gain access to sensitive information. Attackers will use tactics such as spoofing, look-alike domains, and fake email names in order to make it difficult for recipients to identify malicious intent.

In addition, attackers may also employ social engineering techniques such as impersonation or phishing in order to trick victims into providing confidential information or clicking on malicious links. It is important for organizations and individuals alike to remain vigilant during this phase of the attack in order to prevent any potential damage from occurring. By being aware of these tactics and taking steps such as verifying the sender’s identity before responding, organizations can help protect themselves from becoming a victim of a BEC attack.

3) Social Engineering - Social engineering is a type of attack that relies on manipulating people into providing confidential information or performing certain actions. In the third phase of social engineering, threat actors will impersonate individuals within a company, such as CEOs or other individuals in finance departments. This is done to gain access to sensitive information or resources.

Attackers often use emails to request urgent responses from their targets. These emails may contain malicious links or attachments that can be used to gain access to the target's system. Attackers may also use social media platforms to contact victims and attempt to extract confidential information from them. The goal of this phase is for attackers to gain access to confidential data, which they can then use for malicious purposes.

4) Financial Gain - This phase of an attack is often the most dangerous, as it can lead to a data breach or financial gain for the attacker. In this phase, attackers will use the trust they have built with their target to try and extract sensitive information or money. This could be done through phishing emails, social engineering techniques, or other malicious activities.

The goal of this phase is to exploit the trust that has been established in order to gain access to confidential information or funds. Attackers may also attempt to manipulate their victims into making payments or transferring funds. It is important for individuals and organizations to remain vigilant and aware of potential threats during this phase of an attack in order to protect themselves from financial loss or data breaches. Additionally, having strong security measures in place can help reduce the risk of falling victim to these types of attacks.

How Do I Protect Against BEC Exploits?

Business Email Compromise (BEC) and Email Account Compromise (EAC) are two of the most common cyber threats today. BEC attacks involve criminals impersonating legitimate business contacts to trick employees into transferring funds or sharing confidential information. EAC attacks involve criminals gaining access to an employee’s email account and using it to send malicious emails or steal sensitive data.

To protect against these types of exploits, organizations must implement a multi-layered defence strategy that includes visibility into malicious activities and user behaviour, automated detection and threat response, and secure channels for communication. Visibility is key in detecting suspicious activity, as it allows organizations to identify potential threats before they can cause damage. Automated detection systems can also be used to detect malicious emails or other suspicious activity quickly and accurately. Finally, organizations should ensure that all communication channels are secure by implementing strong authentication measures such as two-factor authentication or biometric authentication. By taking these steps, organizations can significantly reduce their risk of falling victim to BEC/EAC attacks.

Protect Your Business from BEC Attacks

As established in this article, businesses should take steps to protect their online data and accounts against theft. Business email compromise (BEC) attacks are one of the most common types of online threats that can cause serious losses for organizations.

Fortunately, there are a number of strategies businesses can use to protect themselves from BEC attacks. By using two-factor authentication, proactive user education and training, and regularly updating security policies and software, organizations can reduce the risk of BEC threats significantly.

Ultimately, understanding what business email compromise attacks are is only half the battle; taking proactive measures to prevent them is essential for commercial success in today’s digital world.

Contact us today to learn how your security policies can help prevent BEC Attacks!


Kevin Kembel

Kevin Kembel
Transpera Technologies Inc.