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.

Vulnerabilities / Threats

04:45 PM
Connect Directly

Security Vendors Report Uptick in Whaling, Phishing Scams

Expect to see an increase in attempts by cyber crooks to trick businesses and individuals to part with their money say Mimecast, Kaspersky Labs.

One of the biggest online security threats to individuals and businesses this holiday season is not from sophisticated new malware tools but decidedly low-tech phishing and whaling campaigns.

Separate alerts from security vendors Kaspersky Labs and Mimecast this week warned about an increase in both forms of criminal activity in recent weeks and urged users to take precautions to mitigate their risk of becoming the next victims.

Mimecast said it has noticed a recent uptick in the number of whaling, or spear-phishing campaigns directed at business executives at mostly large corporations. The goal behind these campaigns is to trick financial staff into making fraudulent wire transfers to bank accounts controlled by threat actors, the company said.

The campaigns typically involve emails that purport to be from the CEO, chief financial officer or other senior executive to an individual within the firm with the authority to make wire transfers on behalf of the organization. Often, the messages contain language that conveys a sense of urgency to get the recipient to act quickly in response to the email.

“Cyber-attackers have gained sophistication, capability and bravado over the recent years resulting in some complex and well-executed attacks,” Mimecast said in its advisory. “But some of the most successful threat activity remains relatively basic and uses simple social engineering to dupe targets,” it said.

Whaling campaigns often involve considerable research beforehand by threat actors who scour social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to gather information about key executives at large organizations. Employees who have excessive information on their social media sites provide a particularly rich source of information to spear-phishers, Mimecast said.

The information gathered from these sites and other sources is then used to craft highly convincing emails. “Whaling is simple for hackers too, because they do not need to use malware or any technical expertise to exploit your organization,” Mimecast cautioned.  “As a result the barriers to entry for this type of cyber-crime are painfully low.”

The FBI, which calls such campaigns Business Email Compromise (BEC), earlier this year noted that as many as 7,000 US businesses have been victimized by such scams over the past two years, resulting in some $740 million in losses.

Employee awareness and education is key to protecting against the threat Mimecast said. Key executives and staff members from within the finance department need to be made aware of the scams and they need to be tested on a regular basis using simulated whaling attacks, the Mimecast advisory said.

Reviewing the finance team’s processes for initiating wire transfers and implementing and an additional layer of authentication for wire transfer can help as well, the company said.

Meanwhile, Kaspersky Labs in its alert Wednesday warned about an increase in phishing scams during the holiday season. People who buy online often get email notifications, shipment tracking alerts and other notices from the services that deliver their purchases, Kaspersky said.

Phishers often take advantage of this to send messages to victims that appear to originate from DHL and Fedex and try to get them to follow or click on malicious links and attachments, Kaspersky labs security researcher Andrey Kostin wrote in the blog post.

Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
7 Old IT Things Every New InfoSec Pro Should Know
Joan Goodchild, Staff Editor,  4/20/2021
Cloud-Native Businesses Struggle With Security
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  5/6/2021
Defending Against Web Scraping Attacks
Rob Simon, Principal Security Consultant at TrustedSec,  5/7/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
2021 Top Enterprise IT Trends
We've identified the key trends that are poised to impact the IT landscape in 2021. Find out why they're important and how they will affect you today!
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
Recent breaches of third-party apps are driving many organizations to think harder about the security of their off-the-shelf software as they continue to move left in secure software development practices.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
PUBLISHED: 2021-05-12
Cross Site Scripting (XSS) in LAOBANCMS v2.0 allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code by injecting commands into the "Website SEO Keywords" field on the page "admin/info.php?shuyu".
PUBLISHED: 2021-05-12
An Information Disclosure vulnerability exists in dhcms 2017-09-18 when entering invalid characters after the normal interface, which causes an error that will leak the physical path.
PUBLISHED: 2021-05-12
evm is a pure Rust implementation of Ethereum Virtual Machine. Prior to the patch, when executing specific EVM opcodes related to memory operations that use `evm_core::Memory::copy_large`, the `evm` crate can over-allocate memory when it is not needed, making it possible for an attacker to perform d...
PUBLISHED: 2021-05-12
A Cross SIte Scripting (XSS) vulnerability exists in Dhcms 2017-09-18 in guestbook via the message board, which could let a remote malicious user execute arbitrary code.
PUBLISHED: 2021-05-12
Knowage Suite 7.3 is vulnerable to Stored Cross-Site Scripting (XSS). An attacker can inject arbitrary web script in '/knowage/restful-services/signup/update' via the 'surname' parameter.