Understanding Payload-Less Email Attacks in Under 3 Minutes
- by Brittany Day
Digital threats are always evolving, but one trend persists: email is cybercriminals’ preferred vector of attack, accounting for over 90% of all digital exploits. Now more than ever, threat actors are taking advantage of remote workers’ increased reliance on cloud email, misconfigured cloud platforms and the fear and uncertainty that are characteristic of the new reality we all face due to COVID-19, and are launching sophisticated attack campaigns designed to obtain credentials, compromise accounts and steal money.
For as long as the Internet has existed, cyber thieves and security companies have been playing “the cat and mouse game” - as security software advances, criminals figure out new methods of evading detection. Attackers have traditionally relied on malicious links and attachments embedded in phishing emails; however, in the current threat landscape, payload-less email attacks - or attacks that don’t involve malicious files - are thriving. By avoiding the use of malicious files, threat actors are often able to remain undetected and continue profiting off of victims’ wrong clicks for an extended period of time. This is great news for the bad guys - but terrible news for unsuspecting users who often end up experiencing financial loss, stolen data and reputation damage.
Learn about payload-less email attacks and how to safeguard against them - in under three minutes.
Breaking it Down: The Most Common and Costly Payload-Less Email Attacks
Business email compromise (BEC) and email account compromise (EAC) are two of the most significant payload-less threats that email users face. BEC describes a sophisticated impersonation scam in which a threat actor obtains access to a corporate email account and sends fraudulent emails under the identity of the account owner in order to steal sensitive information and money from victims. In these complex and highly customized attacks, cybercriminals typically leverage a variety of advanced techniques including social engineering and spear phishing to craft highly convincing fraudulent emails often capable of fooling even the most security-aware employees.
EAC is similar to BEC; however, in this advanced attack malicious actors target individuals as opposed to businesses to initiate fraudulent wire transfers. The EAC scam works by compromising one account, then using the trust established between that account and those associated with that account to steal credentials that can be used to compromise other email accounts and trick victims into unknowingly wiring funds to the attacker. EAC is highly difficult to detect because of the fact that in this scam malicious emails are typically sent directly from the compromised account owner’s computer, which has been authorized to send mail as that user. As a result, these fraudulent emails are not identified and flagged by any sender authentication protocols that the account owner has implemented.
Some Key Stats
- The FBI reports that between June 2016 and July 2019, BEC has generated losses of $26 billion worldwide.
- The FBI has also disclosed that over the past two years, financial losses have increased 136% from BEC attacks alone.
How to Stay Safe
- Think before you click! Take adequate time to thoroughly evaluate each email you receive before interacting with that email.
- Have a dual step process in place for wire transfers.
- Most importantly: With the level of sophistication seen in modern attacks, human error is inevitable. To ensure that users remain safe and to avoid dealing with the devastating consequences of a successful cyberattack, it is critical that businesses implement a comprehensive, threat-ready cloud email security solution capable of keeping them ahead of emerging attacks by analyzing hundreds of thousands of attributes of every email delivered in real-time, ensuring that only safe, legitimate mail reaches the inbox.
The Bottom Line
Threat actors are modernizing their attacks - and organizations must modernize their defenses in order to ensure that their users, their data and their reputation are safe in this heightened digital threat environment. Payload-less email attacks have become prevalent, and businesses must upgrade their email security strategy to be able to detect and block these dangerous exploits. Implementing an adaptive, multi-layered cloud email security solution is the most effective method of fortifying business email against BEC, EAC and other emerging threats.
We’re here to help you modernize your email security strategy and plan for the future, and are currently offering a free security assessment. Email us at
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