Everyone wants to impress their boss, which is exactly what scammers rely on nowadays to carry out sophisticated phishing attacks called CEO fraud. Examples of CEO fraud are becoming increasingly common, with attackers regularly sending out phishing emails to an organization’s employees and impersonating the top executive.

This often comes with a demand at the end of the day that must be completed urgently. Employees don’t think twice about sending sensitive information because these scammers do extensive research into their targets, knowing employee names and specific details on company departments.

In recent years, Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks have become a big problem for companies worldwide, costing $1.8 billion globally in 2021. In the second quarter of 2022 alone, global phishing attacks reached an all-time high of 1,097,811. This number will only continue to increase.

This article will dive into some of the most common tactics cyber criminals use to impersonate CEOs, CFOs, and other C-level executives and highlight what security leaders can do to defend against them.

Most common examples of CEO fraud attacks

While the techniques used by an attacker may vary, there are some common examples of CEO fraud attacks everyone should be equipped to identify and report:

1. Phishing CEO fraud

An attacker will send meticulously researched phishing emails to CEOs of different companies to trick them into clicking on a link to a malicious website or malware attachment. They can then gain access to the victim’s account and contact list to send emails, tricking other downstream employees into transferring funds or sensitive information.

2. Spear phishing

In this attack, hackers will gather information on their targets online before sending them a carefully worded email, imitating a company or individual they do business with or referencing events or projects they’ve attended or participated in. Cyber criminals then try and trick the recipient into providing the requested information so that they can commit future crimes.

3. Social engineering

In a social engineering attempt, the fraudsters will use a personalized email, text message, or phone call to gain the victim’s trust and convince them to hand over protected information or send a wire transfer.

4. Executive whaling

A type of cyber threat where a criminal impersonates an executive and attempts to pressure employees to act quickly in handing over information, uploading tax documents, or transferring funds without verifying the request with another colleague.

How to Prevent CEO Fraud

In all of these examples of CEO fraud, attackers are looking to exploit a general lack of awareness. As a result, there are some simple steps that organizations can take to prevent users from falling victim to CEO fraud:

Educate executives and their teams on CEO fraud tactics

Use free phishing simulation tools to educate employees on identifying phishing, social engineering, and CEO fraud attempts. This way, they’re less likely to be tricked into handing over personal or private information.

Take advantage of security awareness training

The best protection is ensuring these attack risks are top-of-mind for employees. Host regular seminars and training sessions to ensure employees know the most recent tricks scammers have up their sleeves. Create internal cyber security ambassadors committed to keeping your organization cyber secure.

Monitor employee security and fraud awareness

Regularly monitor employee security awareness with phishing simulations, and support underperforming employees with CEO fraud learning modules to educate, train, and change key behaviors.

Providing ongoing security campaigns

Offer employees ongoing communication campaigns about security best practices, CEO fraud, and other social engineering threats, including establishing strong password policies and educating employees about the risks of clicking on suspicious URLs and attachments.

Create network access rules to limit the use of personal devices

Establish a robust network architecture to restrict the use of personal devices in your environment and control how employees share information outside your corporate network.

Update your infrastructure

Ensure all applications, operating systems, network tools, and internal software are kept up-to-date and secure. That includes installing malware protection and anti-spam software to endpoints.

Your Number One Tool: Phishing Simulations

While there’s no silver bullet for defending against phishing attacks, phishing simulations are among the most critical elements of your security awareness training because they highlight the dangers of automatically trusting other users online.

They also illustrate some real-world techniques that cyber criminals use to manipulate victims into handing over information. They also enable you to measure which employees are prepared to detect these threats.

A simulated phishing email shows how easy it is to be misled when you’re in the middle of a busy workday and drives home the importance of staying up to date on the latest cyber security best practices and not clicking on links and attachments from unknown senders.

For security leaders, phishing simulations also provide a reliable way to measure employees’ security awareness to see if they’re at risk of disclosing information to attackers. They also offer underperforming employees access to extra support and training opportunities.

Education is your best solution

In a world where scammers and hackers are constantly advancing, proper education is the most reliable solution to keep your users safe. Cyber security awareness training is about more than keeping up with the latest hacking trends.

Cyber security awareness is about reducing risks of cyber attacks at the source and building a company culture based around a security-focused mindset to ensure these scammers and hackers never have an opening.



Find out if your employees can identify CEO fraud attacks and prevent your organization from falling victim by performing a free phishing simulation.