In today’s threat landscape, no one’s off limits, not even executives. Examples of CEO fraud are becoming increasingly common, with attackers regularly sending out phishing emails to an organization’s employees impersonating the CEO to trick them into transferring money or providing them with confidential company information.

Since 2016, these style of Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks have become a big problem for enterprises, and cost enterprises $43 billion globally. As of December 2021 the number of global phishing attacks reached an all-time per month high of 316,747. This number will only continue to increase.

This article will dive into some of the most common examples of CEO fraud attacks that 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 lots of emails to CEOs of different companies to trick them into clicking on a link to a malicious website or on a malware attachment. This is done sothey can gain access to the victim’s account and contact list so they can send emails tricking other downstream employees into transferring funds or sensitive information.

2. Spear phishing

Where a hacker 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 thentry and trick the recipient into providing the requested information, so 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 into handing over protected information or sending a wire transfer.

4. Executive whaling

A type of cyber threat where a criminal impersonates an executive and attempts to put pressure on 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:

1. Educate executives and their teams on CEO fraud tactics

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

2. Take advantage of security awareness training

Use a combination of security awareness training and phishing simulation platforms to keep CEO fraud attack risks top-of-mind for employees. Create internal cyber security ambassadors who are committed to keeping your organization cyber secure.

3. Monitor employee security and fraud awareness

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

4. 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 educate employees about the risks of clicking on suspicious URLs and attachments.

5. Create network access rules to limit the use of personal devices

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

6. 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 important elements of your security awareness training because they highlight the dangers of automatically trusting other users online.

They also illustrate some of the real-world techniques that cyber criminals use to manipulate victims into handing over information, and 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 work day, 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 you with a reliable way to measure the security awareness of employees to see if they’re at risk of disclosing information to attackers or not, and to provide underperforming employees with access to extra support and training opportunities.

Recap

With more examples of CEO fraud emerging every day, awareness of phishing threats is more important than ever for preventing data breaches and stopping the manipulative techniques that cyber criminals are using to gain access to protected information.

In the future, it’s vital to build a security awareness training program with phishing simulations to ensure that employees aren’t at risk of high risk behavior.

This includes clicking on a malicious attachment or handing over their login credentials to fraudsters, whether they’re in the office or at home.

 


 

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