The Growing Sophistication Of Phishing Fraudsters

A Nigerian-based cyber crime organisation has put together a list of 50,000 senior executives to target in a mass business email compromise (BEC) scam.

Cyber security company Agari reported that the gang, whom they have nicknamed London Blue, send emails to finance officers, purporting to be from other top executives, requesting that funds be sent urgently to a named account.

In the rush to send the money in time to beat whatever fake deadline the scammers have dreamt up, no-one stops to question whether the request is genuine. By the time the mistake is realised, the money is long gone from the account.

Agari uncovered the organisation when its own Chief Executive was targeted. Its investigations found a crime gang being run with an efficient corporate structure. Commercial data providers had been engaged to provide leads, including names, company, title and work and personal email addresses.

London Blue has operatives dealing with business intelligence, financial operations, sales management, email marketing and human resources. By employing data service companies to source leads, it has been able to scale up operations, amassing a target list containing around 35,000 Chief Financial Officers and a further 15,000 senior level executives.

The majority of businesses targeted are financial service companies including some sizeable banks, with construction and property also featured. Targets are in numerous countries, including the US, UK and other European nations.

Back in the summer, the FBI estimated that since 2013, over 78,000 companies have lost funds in this so-called CEO fraud, with total losses of around $12bn. With gang members distributed throughout a number of countries, it is hard for authorities to shut down scams and prosecute.

Because there is typically no use of malware in these attacks, the usual automated security measures are of little use. The gang manipulate individual users with spear phishing attacks, referred to as whaling when so-called big fish within a corporation are targeted.

The lucrative nature of whaling means it is likely to carry on for as long as victims continue to fall for it.

Are you confident your staff members could identify a spear phishing attack?