Everything Credit Unions Need to Know to Protect Against Email Cyberthreats

Wondering how criminals attack credit unions through email? If yes, you've come to the right spot to get to know everything about the credit union email security!

Cybersecurity Causing Troubles to Credit Unions Via Emails

Since more and more individuals are using internet banking services, there seems to be a greater potential for malicious assaults. 

When it comes to cybersecurity, the possibility exists that smaller and more moderately sized credit unions aren't quite as well equipped or as well armed as larger banking firms. Even some large federal credit unions are vulnerable to phishing attacks.

Because of the evolution of phishing attacks, businesses face baiting, email scams in the form of an email from a friend, tailgating, etc., even in 2022.

Moreover, Credit unions are extremely vulnerable because some federal institutions do not include proper email security techniques. However, if you're unaware of those email security techniques to prevent attacks on credit unions, you'll find them here. Let's get going!

Phishing Attacks Spoof Credit Unions

Phishing emails impersonate real communications from well-known or important firms and enterprises. The purpose is to dupe the receiver into disclosing account passwords and other sensitive information related to the fake firm.

The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) issued a statement in February stating that, owing to the geopolitical situation, credit unions should maintain a high level of vigilance and engage in proactive danger hunting.

Bank CU Frauds

Aside from the geopolitical environment, assaults on banks and other financial institutions have increased dramatically. This is especially important for credit unions. 

  • According to another research, over 66 percent of credit unions lack effective email security to guard against phishing.
  • Another survey discovered that 92 percent of credit unions lack adequate security.

Read more about bank CU frauds on SEONs guide to bank account fraud

All banks and financial organizations should exercise caution. However, credit unions are particularly susceptible since many do not have enough email security protection to guard against phishing attempts. Members may be more inclined to believe messaging from their local credit unions since credit unions often rate better than giant banks in terms of customer satisfaction.

Experts examined a variety of phishing attempts for vulnerability, ranging from money transfer codes to pay reminders to document alerts. But the purpose is the same: get the receiver to input their account information and execute financial transactions.

Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities for Credit Unions

While all banks and financial institutions must be cautious, credit unions are especially vulnerable to these assaults. One explanation is that phishing attempts are most effective when the victim is unaware. Moreover, since the COVID–19 outbreak began, the rates of attack have skyrocketed. Businesses are exposed to more cyberattacks than ever before in our post-pandemic world.

Most consumers have become used to frequent scam emails from fraudsters imitating larger institutions, but commun

Ceto & Associates: Community Banks are at a Disadvantage in Fraud Detection  – OrboGraph

ications from a small credit union may not be as high on the spoof radar. Because credit unions are often more trustworthy, many people may be duped into thinking they have received a secure email without further investigation.

Cyberattacks, according to Jerome Powell, are one of the most serious threats to the world financial system. These da

ngers have only grown as online financial transactions have risen. Credit union cybersecurity implies that the effort necessary to secure member data is expanding and becoming more difficult.

Direct assaults on credit unions are very expensive regarding the bottom line and client confidence. Annual financial risk for smaller credit unions may vary from $190,000 to even more than $1.2 million for big credit unions. Credit unions must constantly examine and change their security policies in response to evolving cyber threats.

Social Engineering and Phishing Risks

Social engineering is the skill of persuading others to provide sensitive information. The types of information sought by these criminals vary. Still, when people are aimed, the crooks are usually attempting to trick you into giving them your account information or accessing your computer to sneakily install malicious software—giving them direct exposure to your passwords and banking info and regulating your computer. Some of the risks are:

Baiting Assaults

Baiting assaults, as the term indicates, employ a false promise to spark a victim's avarice or interest. They trick people into falling into a trap that takes their personal information or infects their computers with malware. The most despised kind of baiting uses tangible material to disseminate malware. For example, attackers may place the bait (usually malware-infected flash drives) in public places where prospective victims are certain to notice them. The bait seems real, with a label portraying it as the company's payroll list.

Email from a Companion

If a criminal is able to hack or socially engineer one user's email password, they will have entrance to that person's contact list—and since most people use the same password for everything, they will also have access to that person's social networking connections. Once the criminal gets control of the email account, they send emails to all of the person's contacts or put messages on all of their friends' social sites and maybe on the pages of the person's friends' friends.


The attacker/unauthorized person gains physical access to corporate assets by following an authorized person into a restricted location. For example, the attacker may circumvent physical protection by persuading an employee to keep the door open because they have forgotten their ID. The victim may be asked to give their PC/laptop for a few minutes so that the attacker may install malware.

Tips to Prevent Phishing Attacks

  • Do not open emails or attachments from unknown senders.
  • Using 2-step verification helps to secure your account in the case of a system intrusion.
  • Check for automatic updates, or make it a practice to download the most recent signatures daily.
  • Check for spelling and grammatical errors, which are a key indication that an email may be a phishing attempt. Also, keep an eye out for suspicious subject lines and signatures.
  • Beware of urgency. Phishing emails often try to convince recipients to act quickly, without thinking things through.

NCUA Issues New Cyber Warning to CUs

NCUA issued a cybersecurity advisory in February, citing two recent notifications from the Department of Homeland Security's CISA connected to recent geopolitical events, particularly those involving Russian state-sponsored cyberattacks.  According to the NCUA's notice, credit unions of all sizes should adopt a heightened level of awareness, perform proactive danger hunting, analyze the two CISA notifications, and execute relevant recommendations.

If suspicious behavior is found, the alert suggests that companies take the following incident response steps:

  • Isolate impacted systems immediately.
  • Ascertain that your backup data is both offline and safe. Scrub your backup data using an antivirus application if feasible to verify it is malware-free.
  • Gather and examine relevant logs, data, and artifacts.
  • Consider enlisting the help of third-party IT firms to offer subject matter knowledge, verify the actor is removed from the network, and eliminate lingering problems that might allow for further exploitation.

Ransomware As A Business

Ransomware has gotten so lucrative that most people don't recognize how much of a genuine business it is. There are numerous parallels to today's companies in the dark web job listings and pyramid scams for developers. As a result of all the work being put into the company, it has grown even more advanced. Before, we could have considered a hack to be just one kind of extortion. A credit union, for example, pays to unlock encrypted data. However, double or even triple extortion is becoming increasingly common these days.

The four main types of ransomware attacks are:

  • Locker ransomware blocks access to computer systems entirely by using social engineering techniques and compromised credentials to infiltrate systems. Once inside, threat actors block users from accessing the system until a ransom is paid.
  • Crypto ransomware works by encrypting some or all files on a computer and demands a ransom from the victim in exchange for a decryption key. Some variants will also infect shared, networked and cloud drives. Crypto ransomware may be spread through malicious emails, websites and downloads.
  • Double extortion ransomware will encrypt files and export data to blackmail victims into paying a ransom. Attackers make threats to publish the stolen data unless their demands are not met. An attacker will still have power over the victim, even if the data can be restored from a backup. Unfortunately, paying the ransom does not guarantee the data is safe either, as the attackers have access to the stolen data.
  • RaaS, or ransomware as a service, involves attackers renting access to a ransomware strain from the ransomware author, who offers it as a service attackers can pay to use. Once the devices are infected and ransom payments are collected, a portion of the ransom is paid to the RaaS creator under previously agreed-upon terms.

Preventing Email Fraud with Credit Unions

Full visibility is a critical component to preventing email fraud and is often lacking protocols in place. Email fraud is pervasive, disruptive, and talented at catching businesses that are unprepared. A poll conducted in January 2018 surveyed over 2,250 IT decision-makers in eight countries and found that 55 percent of responders believe their finance staff is most vulnerable to email fraud. 

In the same survey, over half of respondents (57 percent) provide an end-user awareness program on phishing, and 32 percent intend to implement one. Sixty-six percent of banking and professional services firms teach staff how to detect phishing emails. Want to know more? Checkout 8 best business security best practices!

Federal Credit Unions Lack Strong Email Security Strategies

INETCO Solutions for Credit Unions | Fraud Prevention & MonitoringOnly a bank's authorized mail servers may send emails from their authorized domains when email security is correctly set. If thieves want to persuade victims that their fraud letters originated from the bank, they must send the emails using a comparable domain they may register.

Because many receivers can discern the difference, emails from similar-but-not-exact domains have a lower chance than emails from the official domain. They may also be discovered and stopped by different intelligence agencies. Unfortunately, Federal Credit Unions are one segment of the financial services sector that has not implemented these email security measures.

The three email securities Federal credit unions should use are:

  • SPF, which stands for "Sender Policy Framework," is a list of approved mail relay services that may send emails on account of a domain. A receiving mail server may check that an email message's source is from one of the approved sites and raise a flag if it is not.
  • DKIM, or DomainKeys Identified Mail, is a protocol to ensure that messages are not changed between the sender and the receiver while in transit. It adds a digital signature to each incoming email message, allowing the receiver to validate the signature with a public key posted on a DNS record.
  • DMARC uses SPF and DKIM - Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance - to define what happens if an email message fails an SPF or DKIM test. It is intended to be used temporarily to ensure that businesses' email security mechanisms are correctly configured, and that valid emails are not violating SPF and DKIM tests.

The Bottom Line!

One of the most difficult difficulties in credit unions is the ever-changing diversity of risks and channels via which they might manifest. Although we are swiftly progressing to stay up with the landscape, we mustn't disregard current technologies and techniques to safeguard the business, its workers, and consumers. 

Because email is a popular mode of communication and a key vector of attack for many threats, protecting it should be a top concern for every business, particularly those in high-risk sectors. We hope that Federal credit unions start imposing the right email security techniques to prevent these ransomware attacks.

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