Defending Your Business Against Cybercriminals: How to Prevent Business Email Compromise Scams

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As technology continues to advance, so do the threats to businesses from cybercriminals. Business email compromise (BEC) scams have become one of the costliest types of cybercrime, causing billions of dollars in potential losses to businesses each year. These scams rely on exploiting human psychology rather than technical vulnerabilities, making them difficult to defend against.

As a business owner, it is crucial to understand what BEC scams are and how to prevent them from impacting your business. In this article, we’ll discuss the different types of BEC scams, how to prevent them, and what to do if your business falls victim to one.

What are Business Email Compromise Scams?

BEC scams are a specific type of internet crime that uses social engineering tactics to defraud businesses. The perpetrator poses as someone the target trusts, such as a company executive, and attempts to trick the target into performing a specific action, such as wiring funds to a fraudulent account.

There are five main types of BEC scams identified by the FBI, but they all rely on a fraudster gaining access to legitimate business email accounts or creating fake accounts through a process called “spoofing.” These attacks almost always rely on a sense of urgency and appeals to authority.

For example, a cyberattacker involved in a BEC scam may compromise a company official’s email account and then send an urgent email to the accounting department insisting that the business’s accountant immediately wire funds to a third-party business partner to complete an ongoing project on time. The supplied account is actually controlled by the fraudsters, but the unsuspecting employee may believe this is a legitimate request and transfer the money.

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How to Prevent Business Email Compromise Scams

BEC scams can be difficult to defend against, as they largely rely on exploiting human psychology rather than technical vulnerabilities. However, there are proactive steps that business owners can take to prevent their company from being targeted by this type of cyberattack.

  1. Understand the Threat: The first step in preventing BEC scams is to be aware of them. Business owners should educate themselves on the common scenarios and tactics used in BEC scams, such as emails with a tone of extreme urgency and impersonations of a trusted vendor or executive. Always check an email sender’s domain name, and never click a link unless you’re sure you are being directed to a secure, authentic website.
  2. Educate Your Employees: Train all employees on how to recognize BEC attacks and what they should do if they believe they are being targeted. You could even test their recognition by sending periodic phishing tests.
  3. Strengthen Your IT Department: Consider employing a dedicated cybersecurity professional or offering to fund cybersecurity training for interested IT employees. Many of the best information security certifications include education on BEC scams and how to secure businesses against them.
  4. Secure Your Mailboxes: Require your employees to create unique, strong passwords for each account. You could also secure your company email accounts and devices with controls like two-factor authentication and virtual private networks (VPNs). Enable alerts for foreign logins.
  5. Overhaul Your Payment Processes: Develop a protocol for payment approvals, requiring a second employee or executive to validate and approve all money transfers. You should also require employees to confirm money transfers through a second communication medium, such as talking in person or over the phone.
  6. Create a Contingency Plan: Even with all the proper measures, a company could still fall victim to a BEC scam, so you need a plan for that scenario. This plan should lay out concrete steps, listing who is responsible for immediately contacting the FBI and your business’s financial institution.
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What to Do If Your Business Falls Victim to a BEC Scam

If you believe you’ve been the victim of a BEC scam, especially if a money transfer was initiated, it’s important to act immediately. The FBI recommends contacting your business’s financial institution so it can tell the receiving bank to freeze the funds. You should also ask your financial institution to attempt to recall the money.

The FBI also suggests immediately contacting your local FBI field office to file a complaint with the IC3. The IC3 Recovery Asset Team (RAT) specializes in freezing victim funds that were transferred under fraudulent pretenses. To date, the RAT has a success rate of 74%.

Within your company, you’ll want to assess how many email accounts the attacker targeted and see if they managed to compromise any other systems. You should alert employees to the breach – not to create panic but to reinforce your business’s cybersecurity protocols.

The Future of Business Email Scams

As technology evolves, it’s possible that internet crimes like BEC scams will become more sophisticated and convincing, making it easier for businesses to fall prey. However, with the proper procedures in place, businesses can at least get a head start on any attacker trying to defraud them.

Business owners should continue to stay informed about the latest trends and tactics used in cybercrime. They should regularly assess and update their company’s cybersecurity protocols to stay one step ahead of attackers.

In conclusion, BEC scams are a growing threat to businesses, but there are proactive steps that business owners can take to defend against them. By understanding the threat, educating employees, strengthening IT departments, securing mailboxes, overhauling payment processes, and creating a contingency plan, businesses can reduce their risk of falling victim to BEC scams.

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If a business does fall victim to a BEC scam, it’s important to act immediately and follow the steps recommended by the FBI to minimize the damage. With proper planning and a strong cybersecurity culture, businesses can stay ahead of the ever-evolving threat of cybercrime.

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