United States: Social Engineering Targets: Email Compromises A Quick Prevention Guide

More than ever before, malicious actors are targeting email platforms in an attempt to access and monetize sensitive personal information. They often gain access to email accounts through the use of social engineering – inducing unsuspecting account owners to open email attachments that contain malicious computer code (malware). Malware may take the form of a key logger that allows a malicious actor to capture the account user's credentials. If you have an occupational role in which you may be perceived as handling sensitive information, you are a target of malicious actors. If you serve in an executive role, you are an enhanced target of malicious actors. If your responsibilities involve financial or human resources matters, you are at an even heightened risk of being socially engineered via email.

How it works and why people fall for it.

Malicious actors recognize that the email account of a Chief Financial Officer may provide lucrative opportunities to fraudulently redirect wire transfers. They also recognize that the email account of a Human Resources Director may contain a treasure trove of sensitive personnel information, including W2 images that can be used to create and file fraudulent tax returns – and harvest the stolen refunds.

In order to execute their exploits, malicious actors are constantly conducting reconnaissance on executives who may receive, process, store, or transmit sensitive information in their email accounts. Once they identify a solid target, they launch sophisticated phishing attacks to gain access to the email accounts.

Unfortunately, email compromises often go unrecognized until significant damage has been done. This is due in part to the sheer, unending volume of daily email traffic entering employee accounts, combined with numerous occupational deadlines and tasks that often obfuscate the presence of a malicious actor. Managers and employees appropriately treat any communication from an executive with a sense of urgency regardless of context. Email messages that create an increased sense of urgency about a sensitive matter prey upon the diligence and responsiveness of dedicated employees. They often cause employees to overlook "red flags" that would help identify a malicious message – requested rapid response, sensitive content, and requested confidentiality.

The end result can often be significant damage to the information systems of an organization. The best way for an organization to prevent these types of email compromises is to implement a substantive system of administrative and technical checks and balances in order to ensure the authenticity of important time-sensitive messages, especially those involving the potential transfer of sensitive information or wired funds.

The benefits of multi-factor authentication

From a technical perspective, one of the most effective ways to defend information systems is to implement multi-factor authentication. In addition to requiring a user name and a password to access the system, including an email account, multi-factor authentication requires at least one additional piece of information to access the account. This requires authorized individuals to utilize both something they "know," such as a user name and password, with something they "have," such as a unique code sent to the authorized user's smart phone, or something they "are," such as a fingerprint or other biometric measurement, in order to gain access to the account.

The concept of multi-factor authentication is to provide a secondary level of protection for organizations in order to validate online accounts beyond solely a username and password. Multi-factor authentication tools help prevent malicious actors from hijacking corporate accounts and using them to send fraudulent messages.

The DMARC defense

The other immediate defensive step is to establish a Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance (DMARC) record on the domain of the organization so that emails attempting to spoof the actual domain are blocked from delivery.

For organizations that prefer to outsource this responsibility, or other elements of email security, there are several third party products available on the market that are alternately sized for both enterprise level companies and for small businesses.

Regular review and other protective procedures

Whether you are managing email systems internally or relying on external help, ensure that members of your information security team regularly and formally review and audit rule changes within Microsoft Exchange.

It may also be prudent to establish group policies that preclude certain types of rules, like forwarding rules. This is especially true for organizations actively using Microsoft Office 365. When malicious actors compromise an email account, they often establish a forwarding rule so that incoming email messages are forwarded to the malicious actor's account.

As an example, if a malicious actor intends to fraudulently redirect a wire transfer, they will establish rules with search terms such that all incoming messages containing the words "wire," "transfer," "bank," and" account" are deleted from the inbox and forwarded to the malicious actor's account. Another rule will cause all such deleted messages to be erased from the deleted box. The legitimate owner of the account will have no idea that a malicious actor is monitoring wire transfer-related communication in the account. Typically, the harm is not discovered until the owner of the account contacts the client in order to collect on an overdue invoice, only to learn that the bill was paid on time, and that directions from what appeared to be the owner of the account caused the funds to be sent to a fraudulent account.

Administratively, procedures should be implemented to ensure that any potential transfer of electronic funds must be manually, and/or verbally, verified by another human being. Be aware that voicemail authorization should not be considered as a form of verification. It is easy to create and distribute fraudulent voice messages as part of a sophisticated attack. These protocols should be extended to any financial institutions or financial services firms that may be the source of the funds so that they do not unwittingly enable the fraudulent transfer of funds.

Another defensive move worth considering, depending on the organization, is to set a maximum limit on the funds anyone in the organization can individually authorize from the bank at one time. This will force requests exceeding that amount to be verified directly with the bank.

Train your workforce to recognize threats

Finally, engage in regular employee training about the ever-expanding digital threats we all face. Security awareness training should have an interactive component as well. For example, regularly scheduled phishing simulations will help your personnel become best equipped to recognize and defend themselves from the inevitable phishing attacks they will receive from malicious actors.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions