Digital Payments Con Tricks Senior Execs Out of Millions

CEOs, MDs and board level execs are being targeted in the latest online security scam which takes advantage of the busy diaries of senior business figures.

‘Whaling’ – a form of spear phishing – sees high-net-worth individuals hoodwinked into authorising online payments to cyber scammers posing as employees or legitimate suppliers.

Notably different to other spear-phishing attacks because of the sums of money involved, cases of the online ‘confidence trick’ are on the rise with huge sums at stake – one MD approved a £30m payment in a single incident.

The targeted spear-phishing attacks use methods such as pretexting and baiting – creating fabricated scenarios and offering free products to build up a fake sense of trust before stealing sensitive information.

Often frontline workers are targeted to gain access to bosses’ credentials and information, helping attackers build a credible method of approach to their target.

Posted as urgent and looking legitimate, employees are being duped by the ‘whaling’ techniques, resulting in CFOs and CEOs making massive payments into accounts not run by the company.

Louie Augarde, cyber security specialist at Omni Cyber Security, warns if hackers are able to disrupt sophisticated companies like Twitter and Facebook what’s to stop them from hacking you?

“The clean-up of an attack like this is massive so it’s extremely important for C-level employees to sit up and listen. The FBI recently lost 20,000 records from someone calling the helpdesk and pretending to be a new employee. If it can happen to them it can happen to anyone.”

Paul Johnston, penetration tester at application security specialist company, Secarma, warns that cyber thieves are ready and waiting.

“Nothing is going to stop them, so it’s your responsibility to be prepared. Rather than educating your workforce you actually need to test them. There are three steps you need to take with your employees: tell them, test them, and then invest in more technology.

“The tech you must invest in is a secure email system. You will see this implemented in security-aware companies. The cost isn’t high, and if you’re looking at the potential cost of an attack then the cost of being safe is priceless.”

With over 8,000 phishing attacks occurring every month in 2016, Lawrence Jones, CEO of internet hosting firm UKFast, believes it’s essential, now more than ever, for companies to step up their cyber security game.

He said: “Cybersecurity is in the news daily and the risks are growing at an alarming rate. We look after nearly 6000 businesses online and we are seeing this kind of confidence trick working with alarming regularity. It’s only a matter of time before a large business is brought down by one of these attacks. It’s time for firms to knuckle down and strengthen their cyber security defences.”

Andrew Barrett, managing director at cyber risk management firm Coal Fire Systems, has seen first-hand just how devastating these attacks can be.

He said: “We’re seeing more and more of this switch from the guy on the corner of the street trying to sell something dodgy in person, to criminals performing advanced, persistent attacks on individuals online.

“This is a new cyber attack mixed with serious human error. I’ve seen attacks in which cyber thieves call up payroll departments pretending to be a C-level employee and say they want to change their sort code and account details. The effects can be devastating.”

The comments were made at a round table event held by cloud and colocation firm UKFast, at UKFast Campus in Manchester.