Whaling Warning for 2016

Mimecast today released results of a survey* of IT experts at organizations in the US, UK, South Africa and Australia. The results show the majority (55%) of respondents reporting an increase in the volume of whaling email attacks over the preceding three months.

Whaling attacks (also known as Business Email Compromise - BEC) use email sent from spoofed or similar sounding domain names, and appearing to be sent from the senior executives, to trick accounting or finance users into making illegitimate wire transfers to cybercriminals. The research reveals that most whaling attacks pretend to be the CEO (72%), while 36% had seen whaling emails attributed to the CFO. This type of targeted attack relies on a significant amount of prior research into a target organization to identify the victim and the organizational hierarchy around them.

Cyber attackers have gained sophistication, capability and bravado over the recent years, resulting in some complex and well executed attacks. Whaling emails can be more difficult to detect compared to phishing emails because they don’t contain a hyperlink or malicious attachment, and rely solely on social-engineering to trick their targets.

Social media provides attackers with much of the information they need to execute these attacks, especially when combined with wider insider research. Sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter provide key details that when pieced together, give a much clearer picture of senior execs in the target business.

To help protect against whaling attacks, we’ve collected this group of recommendations for IT teams to focus on in 2016:

  • Educate senior management, key staff and finance teams on this specific type of attack.
  • Carry out tests within your own business. Build your own whaling attack as an exercise to see how vulnerable your staff are.
  • Use technology where possible. Consider inbound email stationery that marks and alerts employees to emails that have originated outside of the corporate network.
  • Subscribe to domain name registration alerting services so you are alerted when domains are created that closely resemble your corporate domain.
  • Consider registering all available top-level domains (TLDs) for your domain, although with the emergence of generic TLDs (gTLD) this may not be scalable.
  • Review your finance team’s procedures and consider revising how payments to external third parties are authorized.

For a more detailed analysis, including a breakdown of how whaling attacks are conducted download Mimecast’s whaling security advisory here.

*N.B. Mimecast surveyed approximately 450 IT experts at organizations in the US, UK, South Africa and Australia conducted in December 2015.