Will You Be Able to Recognize Executive Impersonation Fraud?

By Hana LaRock | Cyber Scams

May 02

There are all different kinds of ways for a hacker to breach a system, and it seems like once we figure out how to prevent one of them, another one arises. Whether it’s Malware or Phishing scams, it’s hard to predict what the next one will hit and when it will be.

But, right now, there’s a new scam on the rise, and it’s just as concerning as it is clever. Executive impersonation fraud is becoming more and more prevalent and harder to catch. Will you be prepared if it’s used against you?

What is Executive Impersonation?

An Executive Impersonation is yet another type of Business Email Compromise scam. While it may seem like the type of hack anyone could attempt, it’s in fact, very sophisticated. Hackers who do this go to great lengths to pretend to be an executive of a company and seek the information they are looking for. Therefore, it’s one of the hardest scams to recognize.

In an Executive Impersonation hack, hackers target businesses that frequently do wire transfers. These hackers, or impersonators, “take the place” of a CEO, attorney, or trusted vendor with a leadership position; someone who has the power to initiate a bank transfer. Needless to say, these hackers can get their hands on all kinds of sensitive information and use it to their benefit.

Who are the Scammers?

Though many of us tend to fear the biggest threat actors when it comes to data breaches, an Executive Impersonation attack doesn’t need to be carried out by a whole country. Like many other scammers out there, it could just be a random individual. That being said, it does take a lot of research to impersonate a high-powered executive, and we can assure you that these hackers read up.

Which brings us to our next point…

Why Do People Fall For It So Easily?

These days, when you can hide behind a computer screen, you never really know who you’re dealing with. You may wonder how someone could so easily fall for one of these Executive Impersonation scams, but what you really should be asking is, “How can you not?”

First of all, when a CEO gives any type of order, it’s usually respected. Most people, when given a request by someone in power, will automatically say “yes.” The scammers make sure to use that factor to their advantage while replicating business practices unique to the company they’re hacking. To carry out this type of hack, they will ultimately conduct wire transfers on unauthorized funds by compromising email accounts.

Preventing Attacks

The first step to preventing attacks like these is simply being aware. The more your company is up to date with what’s out there, the higher chance you’ll have for keeping yourself safe.

Who is a Target?

If you think just because you’re a small business you won’t be a target for an Executive Impersonation hack, think again. Smaller businesses tend to be the most vulnerable since often times they’ll put their cyber security on the back burner. Therefore, making sure you take as many precautions as possible, like practicing two-step verification and strong passwords, will help you stay safe.

Know The Different Ways Hackers Carry Out the Attack

In Executive Impersonation attacks, there are three main ways in which the hack is carried out:

  • Executive/Attorney Impersonation: When the hacker pretends to be an attorney asking for money for a time-sensitive transaction for whatever reason. Usually, the “attorney,” or the account that’s hacked, is a person in which the company already knows and trusts, and would have no reason to question the request.
  • Data Theft via Human Resources: This is when the hacker impersonates the CEO by compromising his or her email, then contacting someone in HR, Finance, or any other department that deals with the payroll. That employee will then send the “CEO” the payroll or sensitive information requested without second-guessing it. Then, the hacker will use this info to get what they want.
  • Executive Money Transfer Request: This is when an Executive Money Transfer Request is put through when the hacker compromises the executive’s email. They will contact the person who handles money at the office (again, HR or Finance) to submit a direct transfer to a “vendor” or “customer” account.

No cyber attack can be a 100% prevented. However, if you know the signs of an Executive Impersonation attack while making sure your systems are secure, you should be in good shape.

Smeester & Associates can help CEOs like yourself make the right decisions for your company, whether those involve cyber threats or other concerns in your IT department. To see if you’re at risk of a security breach, take our RiskAware™ Cyber Security Scan & Report today.