There’s no doubt social media cyber risk attacks are on the rise. While more and more brands rely on social media to gain trust and recognition from their intended buyers, scammers are continuing to innovate new social media scams, including executive impersonation scams, to gain sensitive data and financial information from unsuspecting consumers.
The growing ease with which malicious actors can access information, trademarks, images, content, and other IPs from social media platforms to repurpose them for nefarious purposes underlines a growing threat to companies’ legitimacy and brand value. This threat magnifies manifold when the impersonation is that of a trusted C-suite executive.
More than half the world is active on social media. On one hand, executive presence on platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook can be used to build trust.
Conversely, threats like executive impersonation scams can leverage this very trust to deceive vulnerable customers. A survey by Emplifi puts the gravity of this issue into focus – 86% of consumers will leave a brand they were loyal to after just a couple of bad experiences. This makes it critical for organizations to arm up against this imminent threat with the right tools.
In this blog, we’ll talk about executive impersonation scams and how your business can defend against it.
What are Executive Impersonation Scams?
Executive impersonation scams refers to a cyberattack in which criminals mimic high-ranking company executives to access protected data, enable illegal money transfers, or mislead consumers. This can be done through email spoofing, phishing, deep-fake audio and video, and social engineering.
However, a new emerging vector that is often overlooked is social media.
Company executives often leverage platforms like LinkedIn to build powerful personal brands to communicate with and influence audiences. Not only do they get a direct line of communication with potential customers, but they also come off as authoritative voices, as leaders in their fields. Executive impersonation scams seek to yeild this influence for nefarious purposes.
The threat doesn’t end here. Threat actors can also gain access to sensitive company information by convincing employees to take actions that compromise security. In 2016, Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, was hit by such an attack. An HR staffer ended up sending sensitive employee information to scammers impersonating the then-CEO, Evan Spiegel.
In another case, attackers made off with $243,000 in the UK by impersonating the CEO of an energy company. Yet another attack in Australia led to the closure of the leading hedge fund, Levitas Capital, after losing millions of dollars to scammers.
What are the Different Types of Executive Impersonation Scams?
There are five distinct types of executive impersonation attacks that organizations need to protect against:
1. Business email compromise
In BEC attacks, scammers use phishing techniques with fraudulent email addresses to fool unsuspecting employees into transferring funds, sharing sensitive data, or executing malicious orders. The email addresses either closely resemble legitimate work emails and often carry the same branding or are actual email addresses of compromised executives.
Whaling is a type of phishing attack that explicitly targets only high-value individuals. Attackers lay out an intricate social engineering plan to misuse the alleged trust between executives and their employees.
3. CEO fraud
In this form of attack, scammers impersonate the CEO or another member at the top of the hierarchy to convince subordinates to execute urgent orders such as immediate transfers of funds.
4. Supply chain compromise
In this type of executive impersonation attack, the threat actors impersonate a trusted vendor of the organization instead of a high-ranking executive.
5. Account takeover
Attackers use advanced TTPs to compromise the accounts of fellow employees or executives. These accounts are then used to attack other employees vertically or senior executives horizontally to further access sensitive information.
What are the Top 5 Ways to Defend Against Executive Impersonation Scams?
Cybersecurity awareness programs
The Verizon 2022 DBIR report found that 8 in 10 data breaches can be attributed to human error. And yet, only 25% of organisations allocate more than 2 hours annually to formal cybersecurity training for their employees. In executive impersonation attacks, actors end up capitalizing on this mismatch.
Your employees must be trained regularly and informed of the protocol to follow if they encounter a threat. Best practices need to be reinforced and updated as cyber threats evolve. They must be taught how to recognise impersonating emails, calls, and messages to eliminate this threat early.
Setting up verification protocols
Verification protocols establish a fixed procedure employees follow every time a request for data or funds is made. The verification process needs to have a fixed chain of command with responsibility dispersed across multiple stakeholders. This ensures that no single employee can put the organization in a state of compromise.
Despite blocking 99.9% of all automated cyberattacks, only 62% of organizations strictly enforce MFA protocols. Executive impersonation scams are often preceded by advanced phishing attacks that can make it through conventional email security gateways. But with MFA in place, gaining access to critical assets becomes nearly impossible.
Email authentication tools
Email authentication tools use AI to analyze the relationship between the sender and recipient, the email’s tone, and the sender’s location to understand whether the email is authentic or not. Some tools also run the email address against consolidated lists of compromised accounts to verify their veracity. Yet others use SPF, DKIM, and DMARC to help maintain system integrity.
Automated Executive Impersonation Detection Technology
Social media platforms have over 4 billion active users. Billions of images and pieces of content are put up, much of which is malicious in nature. But manually souring through the troves of data to identify brand infringements and executive impersonations isn’t feasible.
Organizations need to employ AI-driven automated detection and takedown solutions that can monitor the length and breadth of social media continuously and initiate takedowns within seconds, to minimize any damage.
Bolster is a powerful AI-powered executive impersonation monitoring solution that monitors 14 different platforms 24/7 to identify and takedown brand infringements, fake profiles, scam offers, and fraudulent websites related to the fraudulent activity.
And we do all of this in seconds without requiring manual intervention. It proactively monitors the threat landscape on social media to eliminate the risk of executive compromise. To learn more about how Bolster can transform your cybersecurity posture with a proactive defence strategy against a host of attack vectors, book a demo today.