Four-Step Swindle: The Anatomy of a Business Email Compromise Attack

This week, we continue our series on Business Email Compromise. Click here to read Part 1, which includes an overview and various statistics on this growing threat.

It takes time and effort to launch a successful Business Email Compromise (BEC) attack. In a typical attack, several messages are exchanged in an attempt to convince the target to authorize large payments to the attacker’s bank account. From start to finish, the steps involved in a BEC attack consist of identifying a target, grooming, exchanging information, and finally, transfer of funds.

Let’s go over these four steps in detail.

Step 1 – Identify the Target Victim

Step 1 – Identify the Target Victim The first step in a BEC attack may be the most time-consuming. During this step, a criminal organization researches the victim to develop an accurate profile of the company. Through publicly available information, attackers look for the names and positions of company executives, especially those on the finance team. They scour social media, online articles, and anything else that will provide specific details about the company and its employees. Scammers who are able to infiltrate a company’s network with malware may spend weeks or months monitoring information on the company’s vendors, billing and payment systems, and employee vacation schedules. They have also been known to monitor the executive’s writing style in order to craft a convincing email using a spoofed email address or lookalike domain claiming to come from the CEO.

Step 2 – Grooming

Phishing - Business Email CompromiseArmed with the information obtained in Step 1, the scammer moves on to Step 2. During this step, the scammer uses spear-phishing, phone calls or other social engineering tactics to target employees with access to company finances. The grooming phase often takes several days of back and forth communication in order to build up trust. During this phase, the scammer may impersonate the CEO or another company executive and use his or her authority to pressure the employee to act quickly.

Here is an example sent to one of our Finance executives in which the sender used display name spoofing to spoof the name of our CEO. Cybercriminals will often use a free email address (notice the comcast.net domain), which can be easy to miss if you’re using a mobile device or some other client that doesn’t display the full email header.

Spear-phishing with Spoofed Display Name
Spear-phishing with Spoofed Display Name

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 3 – Exchange of Information

phishing back accountDuring step 3, the victim is convinced that he is conducting a legitimate business transaction, and is then provided with wire transfer instructions.

Step 4 – Payment

And finally, funds are transferred and deposited into a bank account controlled by the criminal organization.Business Email Compromise bank transfer

What to Do if You Are a Victim

If you’ve suffered losses due to Business Email Compromise schemes, it is important to act quickly.

  • Contact your financial institution immediately.
  • Request your financial institution contact the institution that received the fraudulent funds.
  • Contact your local FBI office and report the incident.
  • File a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

You can find more detailed instructions in the FBI’s Public Service Announcement.

Want to learn more about how to protect yourself from Business Email Compromise scams? In Part 3, we’ll go over a few best practices, so check back soon!

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