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How banks can avoid biting in a phisher's hook

by Cybersprint Blog 16 Dec 2019

How do you rob a bank in 2019? Forget balaclavas, safecrackers and getaway cars. All you need is a laptop, some software and a little imagination. The result? A phishing “business”, which fools online banking users into thinking they are logging into their account, when they are actually giving away their login details to cybercriminals. Bank customers have always been the easy target in this kind of scam. A report from Kaspersky Labs found that almost 50% of phishing campaigns used this method. But as banks have improved their fraud prevention measures to protect their customers, the focus of the phishers has broadened to include the banks themselves.

Targeting high profile individuals

In particular, cyber criminals have adopted so-called “spear-fishing” or “whaling” approaches, whereby senior executives are targeted or impersonated in order to access significant sums of money.

Here’s how that works. Attackers will first create a detailed profile of a high-level executive, based on information they can find from a variaty of online sources. These are called Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) and include information from social media platforms, presentations, emails, and more. 

Having the intelligence they need, attackers can start their scam. When they know a high-level executive loves to play golf or has a certain breed of dog, for instance, they can create a message with a malicious link or attachment, tempting the target to click it as it already sparks their interest. When they do, malware could automatically be installed, or their login credentials can be copied and abused. 

When impersonating an executive, also known as CEO-fraud, cyber criminals send an official-looking email to someone with the power to authorise the transfer of funds, ordering them to pay money to a certain account. The instructions usually pressure the employee to act quickly, and since employees often lack the direct contact with senior executives, they don’t verify the message’s authenticity. They can easily fall prey to the scam and transfer millions to a foreign account. This is exactly what happened to Belgian bank Crelan, which lost €70 million ($75.8 million) when a hacker posed as the CEO and convinced someone in the finance department to wire the funds overseas.

Fighting back against phishing

Banks need to be relentlessly vigilant in protecting themselves against phishing attacks. Here are some of the things they need to be able to identify:

Phishing setup indicators: To collect login details or other personally identifiable information (PII), cyber criminals first need to prepare their scam. The process of setting up a phishing website includes traceable tasks such as domain registration, purchase or ownership transfer, and new content publication. Continuous monitoring for such traces is required to flag these kinds of activities as soon as they occur. This may even make it possible to take preventative action before the phishing site becomes active. 

Attack preparations: Attacks on high profile banks and executives require a lot of planning and collaboration between those responsible. Conversations taking place on the (dark) web, the theft or selling of data or devices, social media chats and many other factors can indicate that an attack is imminent. Of course, recognising these indicators might not always help prevent the attack. Nevertheless, the heightened situational awareness can help banks be better prepared and take remedial action more quickly, thereby minimising the overall impact.

Exposed data: Just like most other organisations, every bank has: unpatched systems; employees posting information, installing applications or sending files that they shouldn’t; and malicious parties trying to hijack social media conversations or coax sensitive information from legitimate users. All of these entry points can be used as stepping stones into the bank's systems. The ability to identify the open doors is critical for banks to maintain data integrity and security.

How digital risk protection solutions can help

Digital Risk Protection or DRP solutions are a relatively new but increasingly essential element in any bank’s cyber security strategy. The digital footprint monitoring that they provide can, for example, help banks recognise and raise the alarm about:

  • Domain names that look very similar to that of the brand, but which don’t support an active website. For instance, the letter ‘ŋ’ might look like a normal ‘n’ in a longer URL;
  • Malicious domains intended to support a phishing or malware campaign. These can be detected through their presented content, such as brand logo, slogan, font, and colour recognition;
  • The highest priority threats, in terms of potential impact from vulnerabilities or the targeting of executives, based on a transparent scoring system.

These insights help banks identify the range of phishing threats they face, and empowers them to make better decisions about the type and prioritisation of preventative action. Would you like to know more about phishing, and how to protect your organisation? Read our Phishing whitepaper here

Are you looking for a way to protect your bank more effectively against all sorts of phishing attacks? We can help you map your digital footprint and its vulnerabilities, empowering you to regain control over your digital assets. Click below to request your free Quickscan. 

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