You’ve Got Mail: How To Tell If It’s Fraud
- by Brittany Day
Is that email that just appeared in your inbox really from who it says it's from? How certain can you be?
Cyber thieves are using social engineering, phishing attacks and other stealthy tricks to threaten their targets into making a fraudulent financial payment. The scam works by first compromising one account, then using the trust relationship between that account and those associated with that account, like vendors and contractors, colleagues, or even clients to coerce the target into transferring money to the attacker.
These attacks are ravaging financial and lending institutions, real estate companies, and law firms, particularly in today's remote work environment.
We’ve spoken with many email users who have fallen victim to this exploit which, in many cases, led to significant losses due to resulting wire transfer fraud and reputational harm. Email Account Compromise (EAC) has been around for decades, yet a surprisingly large number of email users still do not understand how this threat works and how to recognize and protect against it. We want to provide you with everything you need to know to defend against EAC - before you fall for this deceptive, costly scam.
How Does the EAC Scam Work?
Email Account Compromise is a sophisticated email scam in which threat actors utilize social engineering tactics designed to manipulate psychology or computer intrusion techniques to compromise an email account without the knowledge of the account owner or the victims receiving fraudulent emails from this compromised account. These exploits are typically initiated with a phishing email, where a user gets his or her email account compromised by clicking on a link, opening an attachment or having his or her account “brute-forced” - a scenario in which the intruder otherwise figures out the account owner’s email login password and tricks the account owner into giving up credentials.
Once an email account is compromised, it’s game on for the attacker - who now has full access to the account. Malicious spam emails are often sent out to everyone in the account owner’s address book, leveraging the trust that the account owner has built with these contacts to compromise further accounts with the same deceptive techniques. Sometimes threat actors will spread out these fraudulent emails in an effort to “fly under the radar” for a longer period of time.
The proliferation of cloud platforms like Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace for business email has made EAC even more efficient and dangerous, as cyber thieves are able to open any account, test their methods until they are able to bypass default filters, and reuse these methods in attacks targeting thousands of different accounts.
EAC attacks are extremely difficult to detect and combat. In these dangerous campaigns, malicious emails are often sent directly from the compromised account owner’s computer, which has been authorized to send mail as that user. In these cases, fraudulent emails are not identified and flagged by any sender authentication protocols that the account owner has implemented because they aren’t violating any of the SPF, DKIM or DMARC rules in place. As a result, malicious emails sent in these scams “pass the test” and are delivered to victims’ inboxes where they can cause serious harm - often leading to fraudulent wire transfers.
The image below is an example of a fraudulent email sent to a client from a paralegal’s compromised account in an sophisticated EAC scam targeting the legal industry sector. It contains fileless malware designed to redirect the recipient to a fake login page when he or she clicks “Review Document”. Luckily, this email was identified and quarantined by Guardian Digital EnGarde Cloud Email Security before it reached the client’s inbox. Had the law firm not invested in an advanced, effective email security solution, this email may have led to wire fraud and further account takeovers.
The following image is an email sent from a Berkshire Hathaway employee’s compromised account. The attachment is a PDF containing information that requires the victim to login to a fake Microsoft SharePoint account, where the attacker would then have the full login credentials to a Berkshire Hathaway employee’s account. This malicious email originated from the compromised vtaig.com account, but also passed through a Message Labs (now Symantec.cloud) antispam system before it was quarantined by Guardian Digital EnGarde Cloud Email Security.
How Can I Tell If My Email Account Has Been Compromised?
Now that you are fully aware of the risks associated with EAC, you’re probably wondering: how can I tell if my email account has been compromised? There are several signs you should look for when it comes to recognizing EAC.
First, the inability to login to your email account is a major “red flag” that a threat actor may have changed your email password. This is often one of the first steps that a cybercriminal will take after assuming control of an email account.
You can also check your “Sent” email box to verify that the emails it contains are in fact emails that you sent. If you encounter messages that you did not send, this is a strong indicator that an attacker has gained access to your email account and is using it to send fraudulent messages in your name.
Your IP address log can also provide insight into whether your email account has been hijacked by revealing if someone is sending emails from your account from different locations. If you check a log of your IP addresses and you see several different IP addresses listed, it could be a sign that a fraudster is logging into your email account from different locations.
Finally, your friends and acquaintances can provide valuable clues as to whether your email account has been compromised. If you receive messages asking why you’ve been sending spam or questioning the integrity of your communications, it is reasonable to suspect that your account is under the control of a threat actor.
What Should I Do If My Email Account Has Been Compromised?
Knowing what to do in the event that your email account is compromised and acting fast are imperative in minimizing - and hopefully reversing - the damage that is done. If you realize that your email account has been hijacked you should immediately:
- Notify law enforcement.
- Contact your financial institution if you suspect or have discovered a fraudulent wire transfer.
- Request that your bank reach out to the financial institution where the fraudulent transfer was sent.
- File a complaint at www.IC3.gov, regardless of monetary loss. Provide any relevant information in your complaint and identify that your complaint pertains to the EAC scam.
- Change any password that is the same as your email password.
- Send a concise email explaining what happened and apologizing for any inconvenience to your contacts.
Tips & Advice for Recognizing and Defending Against Email Account Compromise
While EAC is a challenging scam to detect and stop, users should take steps to protect themselves and their contacts from EAC by engaging in these best practices:
- Do not click on links, open attachments or interact in any way with emails from unknown addresses.
- Be aware of small changes in email addresses that mimic legitimate email addresses.
- Question any changes to wire transfer instructions by contacting the associated parties through a known avenue.
- Have a dual step process in place for wire transfers.
- Know your customer. Be aware of your client’s typical wire transfer activity and question any suspicious behavior.
- Think before you click! Take adequate time to thoroughly evaluate each email you receive before interacting with that email.
- Critically Important: Implement a proactive, fully-supported cloud email security solution capable of detecting and blocking EAC scams and other advanced email exploits. This is the only way to ensure the safety and legitimacy of ALL emails that reach your inbox.
Is your business prepared to repel spear phishing, ransomware, EAC and other malicious threats? Use our free Email Risk Assessment Toolkit to understand your email risk profile and receive individualized advice on how you can improve your email security strategy to prevent attacks and breaches.
- Thinking Strategically about Email Security in 2021 and Beyond
- Behind the Shield: EnGarde Cloud Email Security Explained
- Open Source: A Powerful, Yet Underutilized Weapon against Phishing & Zero-Day Attacks
- Buyer's Guide: What to Prioritize in an Email Security Solution
- Buyer's Guide to Office 365 & Workspace Email Security
- EnGarde Cloud Email Security: The Logical Solution to Cyber Risk in Office 365
- Exchange Servers Are Vulnerable - Learn How To Secure Your Email Server Now
- Top Email Security Risks in 2021 - How To Set Your Business Up for Safety & Success
- Ransomware By The Numbers: How Big Is My Risk?
- SMB Ransomware Warnings & How To Prevent an Attack
- Apache SpamAssassin 3.4.6 Release Fixes Two Potentially Aggravating Bugs
- Top Tips and Advice for Staying Safe Online in a Work-from-Home World
- Demystifying Phishing Attacks: How to Protect Yourself Now
- Why Your Business Needs Better Email Security
- Why Ransomware is a Threat to Business
- How to Protect Sensitive Data & Maintain Client Trust in Financial Services Industry
- Why Office 365 Users Are Moving Away from Relying on Default Email Protection Alone
- What You Need to Know to Shield Your Business from Ransomware
- Why You Need DMARC to Secure Email against Spoofing Attacks & Sender Fraud
- Biden's Cybersecurity Efforts Highlight the Power of this Key Technology
- Shortcomings of Endpoint Security in Securing Business Email
- Open Source Utilization in Email Security Demystified
- Limitations of Microsoft 365 Email Security & How To Close These Dangerous Gaps
- Think Like A Criminal: What You Need to Know About Social Engineering Attacks in 2021
- Complete Guide to Email Viruses & Best Practices to Avoid Infections
- Security Expert Dave Wreski Discusses Guardian Digital’s Use of Open Source for Email Security
- Are Employees the Weakest Link in Your Email Security Strategy?
- Top Email Security Trends Putting Your Business at Risk of Attack in 2021
- There’s a Lot to be Gained with Effective Email Security
- You’ve Got Mail: How To Tell If It’s Fraud
- How To Keep Email Private with TLS
- DMARC Quarantine vs. Reject: Which Should You Implement to Secure Business Email against Sender Fraud?
- Encryption: An Essential Yet Highly Controversial Component of Digital Security
- Business Email Security Redefined: Key Benefits of Securing Your Business Email with Guardian Digital
- 8 Business Email Security Best Practices
- Demystifying Email Encryption: Stop Sender Fraud
- Demystifying Tax Fraud: How to Avoid Falling Victim to Deceptive, Costly Scams This Tax Season
- Coronavirus Phishing Scams are On the Rise - Is Your Business Email at Risk of Infection?
- Dave Wreski: A Passionate Engineer Brings the Power of Open Source to Business Email Security
- FBI: Existing Cloud Email Protection Inadequate Against Phishing, Ransomware
- Email Risk is Universal: Securing Business Email in Every Industry Sector
- The Remote Worker's Guide to Safely Navigating Office 365
- Why Your Business Needs Superior Email Protection
- Defending Against COVID Email Spoofing Attacks with DMARC
- Open-Source Security Is Opening Eyes
- Think Like A Criminal: How To Write A Phishing Email
- The Four Biggest Email Threats Your Business Faces Today
- Everything On DocuSign Phishing Attacks in 3 Minutes
- Understanding Payload-Less Email Attacks in Under 3 Minutes
- Demystifying Fileless Malware in Less than 3 Minutes
- Apache SpamAssassin Leads A Growing List of Open-Source Projects Taking Steps to Correct Instances of Racism and White Privilege
- Cyber Risk Is Greater than Ever in the Legal Industry
- Understanding Malicious URL Protection - And Why You Need It to Secure Your Email
- Email Security for SMBs Beyond COVID-19
- Email Risk Is BIG for SMBs - How To Protect Your Business Now
- Why Email Security Is More Important Than Ever in This 'New Reality'
- The Threat of CEO Fraud Extends Beyond the C-Suite
- Managed Services: A Key Element of Effective Email Security that Even Modern Solutions Lack
- How to maintain security when employees work remotely: Advice from Leading Security Experts
- FBI: The 2020 Presidential Election Is Under Attack by Email Scammers
- AT&T Security Researchers Identify a Correlation between Strong Cybersecurity and Business Success
- The Aftermath of a Cyberattack Pt. 1: Phishing Recovery Basics
- It Pays to be Prepared! Ransomware Preparedness & Recovery Basics
- Breaking Down Fileless Malware: Anatomy of an Attack
- Keep the Holidays Merry & Bright - Beware of These Sneaky Seasonal Phishing Scams
- Migrating Business Email: The Hidden Complexities You Need To Know
- SPF, DKIM & DMARC: Definition & How They Secure Email Against Sender Fraud?
- Your Current Approach to Email Security May Not Be Enough
- Ways to Prevent Email Account being compromised in a Breach
- Celebrating 20 Years of Revolutionizing Digital Security
- IBM Closes its $34 Billion Acquisition of Red Hat
- Interview with Security Expert and Author Ira Winkler
- What is Phishing Email? How to prevent Phishing email scams?
- Ways Our Business Email Exceed Your Expectations
- Spear Phishing Protection - Definition & How To Recognize Spear Phishing Email
- What is Whaling (Whaling Phishing)? & How to Prevent Whaling attacks?
- Business Email Compromise (BEC) - Definition & Prevention From BEC Attacks
- Wire Transfer Scams Involving Real Estate Transactions: How to Prevent Fraud with Effective Email Security
- Guardian Digital and Mautic: A Dynamic Open-Source Duo
- Email Malware - How to Recognize & Prevent Malware Email Attack
- An Open-Source Success Story: Apache SpamAssassin Celebrates 18 Years of Effectively Combating Spam Email
- What is Spam Email - Types & How to Prevent Spam Emails?
- 2020: A New Decade of Digital Threats - Is Your Business Email Secure?
- Linux: An OS Capable of Effectively Meeting the US Government’s Security Needs Heading into 2020
- Complete Guide on Email Security & Threats Faced by Organizations
- What Are Zero-Day Attacks & How Can I Prevent Them?
- Guardian Digital Keeps its Customers Protected from Intel Design Flaw
- Security Spotlight: Open Source Email Security Solutions
- Top Six Advantages of Open Source Development/Products
- Python and Bash - Contenders for the most used scripting language
- Guardian Digital Outlines Top 4 Benefits of Choosing Cloud
- Unrivaled Protection Against Today’s Most Dangerous Threats
- Guard Your Email Accounts Against Today’s Most Dangerous Threats
- Security Highlights from Defcon 26
- Linux / Open Source FAQs: Common Myths / Misconceptions
- Email Security FAQs Answered by Guardian Digital
- Guardian Digital Mail Systems: Designed to be Secure Without Fail