Emails have been continuously proving that they are the best communication channel in the corporate world. Most organizations are still using email as the primary communication channel to communicate with colleagues, customers, and partners. However, the disadvantage of using email is that it has become the most frequently used platform for hackers targeting businesses. There are multiple types of email attacks an attacker uses to breach data.
Do you know that, on average, an organization receives hundreds of emails daily?
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According to N Business, the UAE witnessed more than 600,000 phishing attacks in Q2 2020. It also mentioned that 2.57 million phishing attacks were detected across the Middle East region from the beginning of April to the end of June 2020.
According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), they have said that they have been receiving a record number of complaints in 2021. It is an increase of 7% from 2020, with a potential loss of nearly $ 2.4 billion.
These figures tell us how cybercriminals are using emails to target organizations in the region. Read on to find out more about these different types of email attacks.
In phishing attacks, the malicious actor pretends to be someone legitimate to obtain your sensitive information, such as usernames, passwords, and other personal information. In most cases, phishers send out a high volume of fraudulent emails that look legitimate to trick the users into clicking a malicious link or downloading the attachment. Among all the types of email attacks, phishing attacks are the most commonly used by scammers.
How Phishing Works:
- Phishers spoof legitimate emails so that the victim trusts them.
- They send out massive numbers of fraudulent emails in order to catch a small percentage of recipients off guard.
- They create a sense of urgency so that the victim does not think twice before clicking the link or downloading the attachment.
Spear phishing is another form of phishing technique. The only difference between spear phishing and phishing is that the spear phishing method is more advanced. Unlike phishing, here, cybercriminals target a specific individual. However, similar to phishing, malicious actors impersonate a legitimate source in spear phishing too. But in this particular case, the actors target someone specifically to impersonate.
The person to be impersonated can be anyone who the recipient knows or trusts completely. Moreover, the hackers research in advance about the target so that they don’t make any mistakes while making the email appear legitimate. Consequently, this makes the cyber attack vectors more sophisticated, convincing, and harder for the victim to identify.
How Spear Phishing Works:
- Hackers acquire personal details of the victim, such as their colleagues, seniors, home address, or places they visit the most on the internet.
- They disguise themselves as their trustworthy colleagues or seniors to obtain personal information.
Business Email Compromise (BEC)
A BEC attack occurs when malicious actors impersonate colleagues, C-suite executives, or high-ranking officials to target victims and trick them into transferring funds into the hacker’s bank account. Sometimes the hackers also hijack the senior official’s email account to run the attack. Most of the time, the email appears to be from a colleague, senior official within the organization, or business partner.
How BEC Works:
- The attackers impersonate someone from the organization or business partner or hack their email accounts.
- Runs the campaign by sending out mass emails.
- They trick the victim into trusting them and make them transfer money, or worse, it will lead to a data breach.
Email spoofing is the process of creating emails from a forged email address. It misleads the recipients into believing that the email came from their contact list. Normally, it’s a phishing attack technique used to send malware, access your online accounts, or steal money.
How Email Spoofing Works:
- A hacker forged fake email headers when they wanted to initiate an email spoofing attack.
- When these bogus emails are received, their headers show a fake sender address. These sender addresses look genuine due to logos or even fonts.
- Hackers run the campaign by sending mass emails to the organization.
- These emails are attached with malicious links or ask you to download an application that carries malware.
In whaling phishing, cybercriminals target renowned, wealthy, or high-profile individuals such as CEOs, C-suite executives, celebrities, etc.; they are called whales. They use social media or corporate websites to find out the names of the organization’s chief executive officer (CEO) or other senior leaders. Using a similar email address, they impersonate that person. A money transfer request may be included in the email, or a document may need to be reviewed by the recipient. Criminals use the information they acquire from whales as a means of extorting money or forcing them to divulge more information. The common victims of these types of email attacks are CEOs or high-profile individuals.
How Whaling Phishing Works:
- Based on the information they have gathered about the victim, the attackers create content that looks and feels like a legitimate email from a trusted source.
- Those emails have malicious links that will lead victims to spoofed websites that look similar to legitimate sites.
- Those websites encourage the victim to share their personal data with attackers, who use that data for malicious activities.
Clone phishing is also another form of a phishing attack. Here, a hacker copies a legitimate email that looks like it was sent from a trusted source. Attackers use victims’ previously used services to trigger the damaging action. They will often do research to see which services are used regularly by that organization.
How Clone Phishing Works:
- Attackers research the background of the organization they are targeting. They basically did research, mostly about the services they had been using.
- Then they pretend like it and run a campaign by sending out mass emails.
- As soon as a victim falls for the cloned email, the hacker forwards the same forged email to those contacts from the victim’s inbox.
The Outcomes of Different Types of Email Attacks
There can be several outcomes because there are different types of email attacks. Every email attack type has its own effects. Some of them are listed below:
Malware is basically a blanket term for malicious software that includes viruses, worms, trojans, and other harmful software with malicious intent. It is delivered to the victims in the form of malicious links or attachments. When the victim clicks the links or downloads an attachment, the malware gets into the system of the victim.
Ransomware is a form of malware that locks the victim out of his system and, in exchange, the hackers demand a ransom from the victim. Similar to malware, ransomware is often delivered to the victim via a phishing or spear phishing attack.
This occurs when the hackers obtain the victim’s credentials through a phishing or spear phishing attack. Often, the hackers send out emails that include malicious links. When the victim clicks upon the link, they are redirected to a fraudulent website where they are asked to submit their credentials.
Wire transfer fraud
Wire transfer fraud takes place when the hackers trick the victim into transferring funds into the hacker’s bank account. In most cases, hackers pretend to be someone who is closely associated with the victim within the organization.
Types of Email Attacks: How to Mitigate the Risks?
Though email attacks are the most common cyber attack to harm an organization, there is a silver lining. The catch here is that most of these attacks are low-tech and involve manipulating the employees. As a result, organizations can prevent these attacks with a combination of training, awareness, and appropriate email security standards and tools.
Some of the best practices for email security an organization can implement are mentioned below:
Educate your Employees
Provide security awareness training for your employees so that they are aware of the cyber attack vectors. They should have the knowledge and experience of how to react when they face cyber attacks. To achieve this, simulated cyber attacks will help them experience how it actually works or looks in the real world.
Check on Current Security Infrastructure
It is advisable to know where your organization stands in terms of being prepared to combat existing and emerging email threats. Analyzing the current security posture can help you find the loopholes and where they need to be patched.
Enforce a Strong Password Policy
When it comes to defending against email attacks, a strong password policy acts as the first defense line. Hence, organizations should enforce a strong password policy and also make sure that employees are following the same. To keep your password safe, different passwords for different accounts should be used. Passwords that are a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, along with numbers and symbols, etc.
Protection from Email Spoofing
Implement tools that can help you stop impersonating your email domain. Tools such as TDMARC do the same thing. The tool monitors SPF, DKIM, and DMARC (outbound email authentication protocols) to protect your email domain against brand impersonation.