Business Email Compromise (BEC) is an extortion-style cyber attack that uses impersonation and social engineering techniques to gain entry to company systems. It uses various tactics, including phishing, social engineering, and malware attacks against employees to steal their money or sensitive data. According to the FBI's reports on cybercrime losses, BEC is now the main contributor to cyber attack financial loss.
Attackers employ social engineering techniques like email spoofing to make emails appear genuine to even the most careful employees. Attackers utilize various technologies to make their emails as convincing as possible - from looking through the email histories of target victims to using lookalike domains that mimic real ones closely.
Once an attacker gains access to an employee account, they may take various actions, including initiating funds transfers or stealing sensitive data such as personally identifiable information (PII), accounts receivable reports, and wage and tax forms. This attack usually affects only financial departments within an organization but could extend into any area.
Although these attacks may be brutal to stop, forward-leaning companies are taking proactive measures to lessen their likelihood. Education on how to recognize BEC attack tactics and to encourage healthy skepticism regarding requests that don't align with standard business practices can be helpful; additionally, implementing email threat protection that includes both DMARC-based protection and targeted threat protection can reduce the chances that attackers' malicious emails slip past corporate defenses.
Protecting against these attacks requires implementing a Zero Trust security framework in which all users must be verified before being granted access to applications and systems. Such an infrastructure leverages advanced technologies like risk-based multi-factor authentication, identity protection, and next-generation endpoint security - guaranteeing that only trusted individuals can access critical data.
How do Business Email Compromise (BEC) scams work?
Business email compromise (BEC) scams use social engineering tactics to attack employees with access to company finances or sensitive data. Cybercriminals impersonate trusted colleagues or vendors and ask victims to wire funds or reveal confidential data; often, this involves CEOs but can involve junior staff as well.
BEC scammers employ targeted attacks rather than broad, spray-and-pray phishing methods; their emails appear more legitimate using techniques like email account takeover. Attackers research their targets beforehand to make their emails sound credible by including "urgent" and "important," along with fake signatures, addresses, or domains to appear more legitimate.Attackers send emails to their victims with urgent demands, such as transferring payments between accounts or changing banking details for future payments. Attackers use phrases such as "we're running out of time" in their emails to convince victims that they must act quickly, sometimes including references to sensitive or confidential data as additional evidence to comply.
One variation of the Business Email Compromise scam (BEC) involves attackers impersonating trusted vendors or partners and diverting invoice payments directly into accounts under their control. Hackers posing as hardware manufacturers have successfully convinced major corporations such as Facebook and Google to pay fraudulent invoices using convincing-looking documents; in this instance, these hackers made payments into overseas accounts that may be harder to trace or recover from.
What are the most common Business Email Compromise (BEC) scams?
Attackers employ Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks against companies to obtain money or critical data. Attackers typically start with emails sent posing as executives or trusted individuals within your organization, though this type of scam could originate anywhere within it. BEC uses social engineering techniques like impersonation to gain control over employees. As opposed to malware-driven cyberattacks that use URLs and malware downloads as attack vectors, BEC attacks employ impersonation tactics, making detection harder with traditional cybersecurity tools and often costlier to recover from.
Some of the most frequently seen BEC scams involve requests to wire funds or transfer sensitive data, for example, by impersonating vendors and requesting an urgent wire transfer of funds into another account or asking employees with financial access to change payment procedures or reroute payroll or paychecks accordingly. Attackers could even use BEC scams to gain access to sensitive intellectual property that can later be sold off or utilized against targets of attacks.Other BEC attacks include fake invoices and executive impersonation. For instance, an attacker might edit an official vendor invoice template to appear as a legitimate business partner and request payments - then redirect those funds into an account they control.
One type of BEC attack involves gaining access to an executive's email account and using it for fraudulent messages. An attacker could gain entry by falsifying domain names or sending a fake email resembling their address.
BEC attacks can be one of the costliest and most sophisticated cyberattacks, yet they can be avoided through education, awareness, and proper hygiene practices. Teach employees how to recognize red flags such as an urgent tone of email messages or unfamiliar email domain addresses; ensure they understand why it's essential to always verify requests for payments, purchases, or wire transfers by phone or in person before providing the payment information or initiating wire transfers.
Ransomware often gets more publicity, but BEC attacks pose an equally severe cyber risk to businesses. By informing employees about these attacks and encouraging them to establish strong cybersecurity habits, you can help safeguard against costly losses for your organization.
How can you prevent a Business Email Compromise (BEC) attack?
Cybercriminals employ various tactics to impersonate executives and business partners to steal money, often targeting employees who can facilitate funds transfers or allow access to sensitive data without authorization. With BEC attacks becoming increasingly frequent and severe, organizations should use both human awareness and technology solutions to defend against BEC attacks.
Most Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks start by hacking or spoofing an employee email account, then using social engineering tactics such as phishing to obtain recipient credentials to gain entry. Once in, attackers request money wire or check deposit and often succeed at persuading victims into complying with them as the request appears from a legitimate and trusted source; their goal is to steal money or information such as customer lists, invoices, or tax forms.
Attackers use social engineering techniques to make their emails more convincing, such as creating false sender names, fake address books, and mimicking language from a victim's emails with suppliers or vendors. Furthermore, attackers will carefully craft timing and messages to appear more urgent; for instance, attackers often send requests late at night after weekends, using phrases like "urgent," "important," and "soon" to persuade recipients to act without verifying.
Attackers use compromised accounts within an organization to gain credibility, such as intercepting supplier emails requesting invoice payments and changing them to their bank accounts. Sometimes an attacker can gain control of an individual's email account and communicate directly with victims before posing as trusted business partners to manipulate victims into wiring payments to their bank accounts under control.
BEC attacks often take the form of CEO fraud, in which an attacker poses as a senior company executive and instructs subordinates to wire funds or reveal sensitive data. Unfortunately, such attacks can often go undetected since most subordinates typically trust senior management without question.
For successful BEC prevention, educate employees to recognize the signs of scams. Emphasize using only verified business emails rather than free, web-based emails, which hackers could easily compromise. Furthermore, ensure your business utilizes multi-factor authentication on all its accounts, so attackers must provide more than just their username and password before granting access to an account.