Malware and ransomware attacks are causing major problems for businesses, but the biggest threat in terms of losses are business email compromise scams.
The 2018 Internet Crime Report from the FBI clearly shows how serious the threat of BEC attacks has become. In 2017, reported losses from BEC attacks reached $675 million. In 2018, losses to BEC scams doubled to reach a staggering $1.2 billion.
It is no surprised that so many cybercriminal gangs are conducting BEC attacks. In contrast to many other forms of cybercrime, BEC scams can be extremely profitable and they require little in the way of technical skill to perform. As with phishing attacks, they often involve an attacker sending an email to trick an individual into making a wire transfer.
The scams often start with a spear phishing email targeting an executive in a company. The aim of the initial phase of the attack is to gain access to that individual’s email account. Once the email account is compromised, emails are then sent to finance department employees or payroll staff requesting a wire transfer be made.
Highly convincing emails are sent, and since they come from a genuine internal email account, the recipient is less likely to question the request.
Large enterprises often make large wire transfers, so a sizable transfer request for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars may be authorized without question. There have even been cases where much more substantial wire transfers have been made. A town in New Jersey discovered that, as a result of a BEC attack, a transfer of $1 million had been made to a criminal’s account. In that case, the FBI was able to freeze the funds in time, but with many scams, funds are withdrawn before the scam is identified.
In many cases, the first step in the attack is skipped and emails are simply spoofed to make them appear to have been sent from within the organization, from a contractor, or another individual with a relationship with the targeted entity.
The tactics and techniques being used are constantly changing. In addition to requests for wire transfers, cybercriminals often request tax (W2) forms of employees. This year has also seen an increase in gift card related BEC attacks. Instead of requesting wire transfers, requests are made to send gift cards for iTunes and online retailers. Cybercriminals then exchange the gift cards for Bitcoin online.
Confidence fraud and romance scams were the second main cause of losses. $362 million was lost to those scams and investment-related scams resulted in losses of over $252 million.
The real estate sector was extensively targeted in 2018. Criminals have attempted to get deposits and payments for house purchases diverted, often posing as the buyer, seller, real estate agents, or lawyers.
Phishing attacks are also on the rise. In 2018, the FBI’s Internet Crimes Complaint Center (IC3) received 26,379 complaints about phishing, smishing, and vishing, More than $48 million was lost to those scams in 2018.
Many of these scams are either conducted over email or start with a phishing email. It is therefore important for businesses to implement solutions that protect the email gateway and block these attacks at source to prevent malicious messages from reaching end users. It is also essential to provide training to staff to ensure they if they do encounter a phishing email or other scam, they have the skills to identify it as such.