2018 Has Seen a Noticeable Surge in Email Impersonation Attacks

The September Email Danger Report circulated by cybersecurity firm FireEye has cast light on the latest methods being used by cybercriminals to dupe end-users into disclosing confidential information such as login identifications to online bank accounts and electronic mail facilities.

Phishing attacks continue to control the dangerous landscape and cybercriminals have been improving their methods to achieve a higher success rate. Standard phishing electronic mails, sent in massive batches to random receivers, require no earlier research on a person or business and can be effective if they reach an inbox. Nevertheless, spam sieving solutions are now much better at identifying these ‘spray and pray’ electronic mail attacks and end users can identify these electronic mails as malevolent with comparative ease if they do reach an inbox. A lot of phishers are now spending more time examining targets and are carrying out much more sophisticated attacks to enhance their success rate.

Among the most usual pieces of advice given to workers in safety awareness training sessions is never to click on a link or open an electronic mail attachment that has been received from a strange sender. If an electronic mail is received from a known individual, it is much more likely to be reliable. It is also much tougher for spam sieving solutions to identify these electronic mails as malevolent.

These imitation attacks involve the attacker imitating to be a known contact, such as the CEO or a coworker. In order to pull off a cheat such as this, the firm should be examined to identify a person within the firm and to find out their electronic mail address. That person’s electronic mail address is then spoofed to make it appear like the electronic mail has been sent from that person’s electronic mail account.

Better still, if an electronic mail account of a worker can be compromised, it can be used to send phishing electronic mails to coworkers from within the business. These Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks are even tougher to recognize as malevolent, and if the CEO or CFO’s electronic mail account can be compromised, workers are much more likely to reply and open a malevolent attachment or click an embedded hyperlink.

Instead of having to create a message for one target, if access to an electronic mail account is gained, it becomes much easier to deceive large numbers of people with general phishing electronic mails. “By including a phishing link in the impersonation electronic mail, cybercriminals understood they could send out a vaguer electronic mail to a larger amount of people while still seeing a similar open rate,” wrote FireEye in the report.

This method works well if the electronic mail account has been compromised, however, it is also effective if the display name is deceived to demonstrate a person’s actual name instead of just the electronic mail address. Similarly, if the display name is modified to show a real electronic mail address used by the firm, many workers will trust the messages have come from that person and will not carry out additional checks to decide whether the electronic mail is genuine. An alternative method is to register a domain name that is extremely similar to the one used by a firm – with two letters transposed for example – which can be sufficient to fool numerous workers.

These kinds of impersonation attacks are known as friendly name deceiving and are often effective. FireEye notes that there has been a major increase in these kinds of phishing attacks in the first half of the year. Further, a lot of these electronic mails are being delivered – 32% as per the FireEye report.

The study demonstrates not only how important it is to apply an advanced spam sieving solution to block these electronic mails, but also how important it is for workers to receive safety consciousness training to assist them to recognize attacks such as these and to condition workers to carry out additional checks on the actual sender of an electronic mail before taking any action.