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.

Operational Security

// // //
10/4/2018
09:35 AM
Scott Ferguson
Scott Ferguson
News Analysis-Security Now

Attackers Can Compromise Corporate Email Accounts for $150

With corporate email account hacking tools available on criminal forums for as little as $150, a report from Digital Shadows finds that this has led to an increase in Business Email Compromise and Email Account Compromise attacks.

Corporate email accounts are increasingly coming under attack with two specific kinds of schemes -- Business Email Compromise (BEC) and Email Account Compromise (EAC) -- on the rise thanks to a proliferation of cheap hacking services.

For as little as a $150 investment, cybercriminals can purchase account hacking services on various forums and use those tools to start a lucrative BEC or EAC scheme that typically targets a company's financial or accounting department.

This look at the growing threat BEC and EAC schemes pose to enterprises is part of a study released by Digital Shadows on Thursday, October 4, dubbed "Pst! Cybercriminals on the Outlook for Your Emails."

Digital Shadows researchers looked at nearly 5 billion credentials that had been exposed through more than 280,000 different data breaches. Within that pool of data, they found 33,568 email addresses of finance departments exposed through third-party compromises.

A forum user offering to hack corporate email accounts\r\n(Source: Digital Shadows)\r\n
A forum user offering to hack corporate email accounts
\r\n(Source: Digital Shadows)\r\n

Additionally, over 80% of these emails had their passwords exposed, which could lead to various account takeovers.

Email attacks such as BEC and EAC are not new, however, recent reports show that they are increasing as attackers look for different ways to make money off stolen credentials and compromised systems.

In May, the FBI released a cybersecurity report that found BEC scams had cost businesses and consumers in the US over $675 million in losses in 2017 alone. The bureau received over 15,000 complaints about BEC attacks during those 12 months. (See FBI: Ransomware Contributed to $1.4B in Losses in 2017.)

Other similar scams, such as account takeover (ATO) attacks, are also on the increase. (See Account Takeover Attacks Are on the Rise.)

Rafael Amado, strategy and research analyst at Digital Shadows, noted that the FBI estimated that all these types of email attacks have increased by 136% between December 2016 and May of this year. It's not clear why they have increased, but the proliferation of cheap hacking tools has helped.

"It's not clear why these attacks are more prominent right now, but it would seem that the wide availability of tools and individuals offering phishing and email compromise services online lowers the barriers to entry for this activity," Amado wrote in an email to Security Now. "With more and more organizations digitizing their businesses, you have the knock-on effect of more targets being created, more employees whose credentials may be exposed, and more email archives that are being backed up on misconfigured file stores."

Another reason for the increase is that many of these schemes don't require a lot of technical know-how.

Amado notes that BEC schemes usually follow two specific routes: The first is the attacker using social engineering techniques and impersonation to email a victim and ask them to wire funds or send across sensitive data. The second involves the attacker manages to compromise the victim's email account -- often through phishing schemes -- and then alters mailbox rules before sending fraudulent messages to colleagues requesting wire transfers.

Both techniques allow cybercriminals to steal money quickly without a lot of upfront investment.

A dark web user seeking offering $5000 for hacked company email accounts emails
A dark web user seeking offering $5000 for hacked company email accounts emails

If buying tools is not possible, Digital Shadows also found some 12 million email archive files -- .eml, .msg, .pst, .ost, .mbox -- that were publicly available through misconfigured rsync, FTP, SMB, Amazon S3 buckets and NAS drives.

As part of the research, Digital Shadows did contact a Russian-speaking attacker who was looking to buy email addresses associated with the financial departments of specific companies. However, Amado noted in his email that these schemes had been observed in over 150 countries, including the US, although China and Hong Kong have seen more attacks.

To help counter these threats, Amado recommended increasing anti-spam and anti-malware tools cut down on scam emails. Also, enterprises should do more to train employees, including executives, to be aware of these threats.

"You need to build BEC into your contingency plans, just as you have built ransomware and destructive malware into your incident response/business continuity planning," Amado wrote. "For BEC, work with your wire transfer application vendors to build in multiple person authorizations to approve significant wire transfers and prevent successful BEC attempts against your organization."

Related posts:

— Scott Ferguson is the managing editor of Light Reading and the editor of Security Now. Follow him on Twitter @sferguson_LR.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Oldest First  |  Newest First  |  Threaded View
Edge-DRsplash-10-edge-articles
I Smell a RAT! New Cybersecurity Threats for the Crypto Industry
David Trepp, Partner, IT Assurance with accounting and advisory firm BPM LLP,  7/9/2021
News
Attacks on Kaseya Servers Led to Ransomware in Less Than 2 Hours
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  7/7/2021
Commentary
It's in the Game (but It Shouldn't Be)
Tal Memran, Cybersecurity Expert, CYE,  7/9/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
The Promise and Reality of Cloud Security
Cloud security has been part of the cybersecurity conversation for years but has been on the sidelines for most enterprises. The shift to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic and digital transformation projects have moved cloud infrastructure front-and-center as enterprises address the associated security risks. This report - a compilation of cutting-edge Black Hat research, in-depth Omdia analysis, and comprehensive Dark Reading reporting - explores how cloud security is rapidly evolving.
Flash Poll
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2023-25136
PUBLISHED: 2023-02-03
OpenSSH server (sshd) 9.1 introduced a double-free vulnerability during options.kex_algorithms handling. This is fixed in OpenSSH 9.2. The double free can be triggered by an unauthenticated attacker in the default configuration; however, the vulnerability discoverer reports that "exploiting thi...
CVE-2023-25139
PUBLISHED: 2023-02-03
sprintf in the GNU C Library (glibc) 2.37 has a buffer overflow (out-of-bounds write) in some situations with a correct buffer size. This is unrelated to CWE-676. It may write beyond the bounds of the destination buffer when attempting to write a padded, thousands-separated string representation of ...
CVE-2022-48074
PUBLISHED: 2023-02-03
An issue in NoMachine before v8.2.3 allows attackers to execute arbitrary commands via a crafted .nxs file.
CVE-2023-25135
PUBLISHED: 2023-02-03
vBulletin before 5.6.9 PL1 allows an unauthenticated remote attacker to execute arbitrary code via a crafted HTTP request that triggers deserialization. This occurs because verify_serialized checks that a value is serialized by calling unserialize and then checking for errors. The fixed versions are...
CVE-2022-4634
PUBLISHED: 2023-02-03
All versions prior to Delta Electronic’s CNCSoft version 1.01.34 (running ScreenEditor versions 1.01.5 and prior) are vulnerable to a stack-based buffer overflow, which could allow an attacker to remotely execute arbitrary code.