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Cybersecurity Companies Among Smaller Firms Hit with Brand Spoofing

Researchers find smaller organizations, including some in the cybersecurity space, increasingly targeted with these impersonation attacks.

Cybercriminals who focus on brand-spoofing attacks are setting their sights on smaller targets, including some cybersecurity companies, many of which can't afford to mitigate these attacks.

Brand spoofing, or impersonation, attacks typically target large brands. Attackers send emails pretending to come from an organization in order to trick victims into sharing credentials or sending money. A recent Check Point report found Apple was the most-spoofed brand in the last quarter; before then, criminals most often impersonated Google, Amazon, and Facebook.

The focus on bigger brands makes sense, as these companies have the most customers and the highest likelihood of success. However, the giants have learned criminals' ways and over time have found methods of detecting fraudulent websites so they can quickly pull them offline.

"If you tried to set up a Google page, you'd last about half a millisecond on the Internet," says Matthew Gardiner, principal security strategist at Mimecast. "Google is pretty good at finding and taking things down."

Now criminals have begun to target a tier of smaller companies, including cybersecurity firm Check Point, Mimecast found. Researchers discovered the online domain spoofing as part of brand exploitation protection scans, flagged it as suspicious, and notified the company. The website was designed to mimic Check Point's official regional Indonesia website and used its brand name, trademarks, and active mail exchanger (MX) records that could be used in an email phishing attack.

This is how most brand impersonation attacks unfold. "The lure is almost always phishing," Gardiner adds, but the criminals have to redirect victims to a convincing web page to be successful. Most of the time, they're trying to steal the login information for whatever website they're cloning.

While the fraudulent Check Point site has since been taken down, Gardiner says its existence points to a growing trend of attackers thinking outside of big brands to target smaller companies.

There are several reasons for this. Many don't have resources to detect fraudulent websites; as a result, a spoofed site could be up for days or weeks before the brand owner takes it down. Some companies may have a process, such as writing a letter to the registrar, that has to be completed. It's incentive for attackers to avoid big brands with more sophisticated defenses.

These are also easy attacks to deploy, he adds. An attacker can launch dozens of brand-spoofing attacks per day, in terms of cloning and hosting the websites. All they need to do is get the attention of an audience that may be interested – a phishing service provider, for example. From there, they can phish for credentials to sell or break into the organization. 

A Defender's Perspective
Cybersecurity businesses are among the smaller companies targeted in these campaigns because they are trusted among customers, and attackers want to take advantage of it. Mimecast is routinely, though not heavily, targeted in brand impersonation attacks, he adds.

"You generally go down to the next level because you think the credential or the contact you're going to initiate is valuable," he explains. "Security companies aside, I think the belief is the defenses aren't as good."

For a criminal who wants to go where the money is, a second-tier financial business would have an easily discoverable website that wouldn't be hard to spoof.

For many smaller companies, brand spoofing often isn't on the radar. Most people think of cyberattacks as threats targeting the company, Gardiner explains. They worry about inbound phishing messages or cybercriminals trying to drop ransomware into their environments.

"This is, 'I'm using your brand to get to somebody who trusts you,'" he says. "It's flipping the equation on its head."

From a defender's perspective, it's a different mentality to fight attacks targeting partners, customers, and people who trust their brand but don't target the company. These threats can still cause damage, whether it's in the form of credential theft, revenue loss, and erosion of trust in the brand among customers.

For companies that want to better protect against brand impersonation, Gardiner advises implementing multifactor authentication, monitoring for the registration of new domains similar to those of the brand, and implementing awareness training for employees. 

"To the extent your community can be aware of the risk of malicious phishing and websites, the better," he says. "It takes someone to engage in these emails and these websites for [attacks] to occur."


Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

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