It's a common misconception that cyber-criminals use sophisticated technical tools to hack into a person's computer or online accounts. More often than not, cyber attackers use old fashioned trickery or "social engineering" to gain access to your information. By exploiting the trusting nature of people, cyber-criminals manipulate people to willingly give up confidential information such as passwords, bank information, or access to their computer's hard drive.
While there are many versions of these types of attacks, one common (and often effective) scheme is referred to as "CEO Fraud." Given the vast amount of detailed information available on a company's website, LinkedIn profile and other social media sites, a cyberattacker can carefully research an organization and identify the names of senior management. After learning specific details about a company, the attacker drafts an email pretending to be a company executive to a company employee asking for confidential information — such as an emergency wire transfer or bank account information.
CEO Fraud emails can be very convincing — using the company's jargon, logo, or sender's digital signature. Often, the email has a tremendous sense of urgency, demanding the recipient take immediate action and not tell anyone because the goal is to rush the recipient into making a mistake. Targeted attacks like these are so dangerous because security technologies like anti-virus or firewalls cannot detect or stop these attacks because there is no malware involved.
The most common clues of a social engineering attack include:
- The email has a tremendous sense of urgency.
- The email comes from a suspicious looking account (such as a Gmail account rather than a corporate account).
- The sender is asking for information (such as bank account numbers or passwords) that he/she should already know or have access to.
- The sender is pressuring the recipient to bypass or ignore established/expected security processes or procedures.
- The communication seems odd or doesn’t really sound like the sender.
Common sense is the best defense for a social engineering attack. If something seems suspicious, it may be an attack. If you suspect someone is trying to trick or fool you, immediately stop the communication.
Check out our series, Privacy Perils, to learn what steps you can take to guard your personal and company data. For more information about this topic and other cyber security concerns, please contact Bob Brewer, Tony McFarland, Elizabeth Warren or a member of our Privacy & Data Security team.