Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Endpoint //

Authentication

6/19/2019
10:00 AM
Sam Bocetta
Sam Bocetta
Commentary
50%
50%

How Hackers Emptied Church Coffers with a Simple Phishing Scam

Cyber thieves aren't bound by a code of ethics. They look for weak targets and high rewards, which is exactly what Saint Ambrose Catholic offered.

The approach was simple, a combination email scam and social engineering phone call. All it took was a call to St. Ambrose Catholic Parish, claiming to be Marous Brothers Construction, a company working on a church renovation project for the past two months. But the phone call wasn’t from Marous Brothers Construction. The scammers told the church that payments were late.

A statement from the Saint Ambrose Catholic Parish's Father Bob Stec said:

On Wednesday, Marous Brothers [construction] called inquiring as to why we had not paid our monthly payment on the project for the past two months totaling approximately $1,750,000. This was shocking news to us, as we have been very prompt on our payments every month and have received all the appropriate confirmations from the bank that the wire transfers of money to Marous were executed/confirmed.

The scammers convinced the church that the construction company they hired had changed their bank. Hindsight being 20/20, whoever received the call should have confirmed with another source. But they didn't. Father Stec explained:

Upon a deeper investigation by the FBI, we found that our email system was hacked and the perpetrators were able to deceive us into believing Marous Brothers had changed their bank and wiring instructions. The result is that our payments were sent to a fraudulent bank account and the money was then swept out by the perpetrators before anyone knew what had happened.

According to the FBI, the criminals breached the church's email account, then began a waiting game during which the hackers sat back and read all of the conversations in the inbox. Eventually, they were able to glean enough information to convince the church to wire them money. Before the church realized, it was out $1.75 million in the middle of a major renovation, and all it took was a few emails, some Photoshop skills, and a phone call to derail the good intentions of the parish.

Protect Thyself: Even the Sacred Are at Risk
In 2019, even a cyberattack on a church shouldn't surprise anyone. According to the FBI, cybercrime losses doubled in 2018 over the previous year. It wouldn't be shocking, based on trends, for 2019 to up the ante even further. With cybercrime prevention all over the news, more individuals and organizations are realizing that they must get proactive at protecting themselves; this story should serve as a warning to all organizations, even those not operated for profit or that are religiously affiliated. 

A good first step is to shift your security strategy from cybersecurity to cyber resilience, which is essentially a change in emphasis from reactive to proactive. The important point is not to be intimidated by the universe of potential security processes, tools, and strategies. Start with a few simple things.

  • Be brilliant at the basics. Simply put, this means doing the small things right, such as staying on top of routine maintenance such as patches, updates, and access permissions.
  • Embrace the cloud for security. Take advantage of the secure storage space offered by cloud providers to make data less accessible to cybercriminals.
  • Implement data-centric security by encrypting data and restricting access to sensitive information. 
  • Demand application security by design. Implement best security practices and test them often. With the continuing popularity of phishing, experts would recommend employee training in how to recognize attacks, followed by test fake attempts to evaluate response.
  • Engage in proactive defense. A proactive defense includes a firewall, security software, and a strong virtual private network (VPN). The first two provide a protective perimeter that detects, blocks, and removes inbound malware and viruses. The latter creates an anonymous, encrypted internet connection that makes it harder for snoopers to find, intercept, or read data. 

Saint Ambrose lost nearly $2 million as a result of the cyberattack, and may or may not get it back. The cost to prevent it could have been as simple as:

  • A few hours of paid time for a cybersecurity consultant
  • Employee training on how to not get phished
  • A few hundred dollars' worth of software (firewall, VPN, etc)

Related Content:

Sam Bocetta is a freelance journalist specializing in U.S. diplomacy and national security, with emphases on technology trends in cyber warfare, cyber defense, and cryptography. Previously, Sam was a defense contractor. He worked in close partnership with architects and ... View Full Bio
 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Threaded  |  Newest First  |  Oldest First
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 9/17/2020
Cybersecurity Bounces Back, but Talent Still Absent
Simone Petrella, Chief Executive Officer, CyberVista,  9/16/2020
Meet the Computer Scientist Who Helped Push for Paper Ballots
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  9/16/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
Special Report: Computing's New Normal
This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
Flash Poll
How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
The COVID-19 pandemic turned the world -- and enterprise computing -- on end. Here's a look at how cybersecurity teams are retrenching their defense strategies, rebuilding their teams, and selecting new technologies to stop the oncoming rise of online attacks.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-25789
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-19
An issue was discovered in Tiny Tiny RSS (aka tt-rss) before 2020-09-16. The cached_url feature mishandles JavaScript inside an SVG document.
CVE-2020-25790
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-19
** DISPUTED ** Typesetter CMS 5.x through 5.1 allows admins to upload and execute arbitrary PHP code via a .php file inside a ZIP archive. NOTE: the vendor disputes the significance of this report because "admins are considered trustworthy"; however, the behavior "contradicts our secu...
CVE-2020-25791
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-19
An issue was discovered in the sized-chunks crate through 0.6.2 for Rust. In the Chunk implementation, the array size is not checked when constructed with unit().
CVE-2020-25792
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-19
An issue was discovered in the sized-chunks crate through 0.6.2 for Rust. In the Chunk implementation, the array size is not checked when constructed with pair().
CVE-2020-25793
PUBLISHED: 2020-09-19
An issue was discovered in the sized-chunks crate through 0.6.2 for Rust. In the Chunk implementation, the array size is not checked when constructed with From<InlineArray<A, T>>.