Spear phishing attacks against financial institutions are getting more targeted and sophisticated. To defeat these increasingly challenging intrusions, your enterprise needs smarter tools. 

Financial Institutions are the Bullseye for Spear Phishing

Like all phishing ventures, spear phishing’s goal is to take advantage of vulnerabilities in an organization’s technology, processes, and people, with the ultimate goal of transferring funds or exfiltrating data.

Whether criminals are trying to deploy the TrickBot malware or other criminal behavior, the danger to your business from spear phishing campaigns is severe.  Not only as an “end” to perpetrate invoice, payment, or other frauds, but also as a “means” to an end for other schemes, including ransomware and island hopping.

Spear phishing is a significant issue to companies across industries, but it is especially troublesome for financial institutions. The consumer trust inherent with financial service companies makes you especially vulnerable to fraud or data breaches. Brand reputations can be easily compromised, and social media’s amplification can make for a very slippery slope.

The general state of anxiety brought on by the pandemic, and shifts in the work environment, have contributed to massive increases in spear phishing. Additionally, the prevalence of social media, the Dark Web, and better organized cyber-criminal syndicates also have contributed to the ease in carrying out these strikes. 

Likewise, the shift to home offices brought an increase in shadow IT, with unapproved devices, software, and poorly secured networks, further increasing vulnerability to spear phishing. Below are some data points on the overall prevalence and impact:

  • Financial institutions are the target in 4 out of 10 phishing attacks. 
  • Spear phishing strikes averaged $80,000 in losses during Q4 2020. 
  • They were also the leading delivery method for targeted attacks.
  • According to the FBI, overall phishing incidents rose 12X in the past five years.
  • Last year, phishing complaints to the FBI rose by 110% over the prior year.

What is a Whaling Attack? | Whale Phishing | Kaspersky

Smarter Phishing Techniques

While the stereotype of the hacker working out of their parent’s basement can still be somewhat accurate, the much bigger concern for financial service firms is large criminal enterprises  (https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/PDF-136/Accenture-2020-Cyber-Threatscape-Full-Report.pdf). These criminal groups have the personnel and resources to undertake the more time-consuming homework required in spear phishing. Their spear phishing ploys involve significant researching, planning, and preparing prior to execution. 

Digital transformation initiatives are not just for the good guys – criminals are also implementing. A spear phishing toolkit could include: 

  • Deploying AI models to help create their spear phishing attacks. AI tools are inevitably getting more leveraged by fraudsters. “Smart phishing” extracts insights and creates realistic copy and targeting of organizations and individuals. 
  • Utilizing the Dark Web to procure a variety of items to carry out the spear phishing campaign, including starter phishing kits, compromised passwords, and insider information. 
  • Exploring social media to find potential victims, and gain insights on organizational structures, systems, and processes.
  • Utilizing high-profile cloud storage providers to store malware since it is not likely to be blocked by companies.
  • Sending company’s mass benign emails to receive “out of office” emails to obtain company formatting, and information on employees not working.

Additionally, an offshoot of spear phishing is whaling”. This scheme is similar to spear phishing, but it is an even more refined approach, only going after CEOs, CFOs, and other senior executives. The criminals do not need to bother with false links and malicious URLs. By impersonating senior executives, they count on your recipients’ fear of not complying with requests, instead of technology subterfuge to carry out their crime. 

Fight Back with Smarter Tools 

Preventing spear phishing intrusions, just like other phishing plots, begins with educating your workforce on cyber threats. Providing a consistent cadence of training, including specific examples, creates a formidable defense. 

An increasingly important tool in the fight against phishing is Dark Web Monitoring. It provides insights into your potential threats, and a guard against spear phishing and whaling attacks. 

Fraud.net’s Email AI’s continuous adaptive risk and trust assessment provides faster and smarter decisioning for more advanced email protection. The software analyzes emails to ensure that communications are being sent from known organizations and not originating from malicious actors. It also monitors your messages to ensure they do not contain malware. 

Most importantly, Email AI alerts you to fake senders, false accounts, and fraudulent invoices as soon as they hit the inbox to protect your enterprise from spear phishing. We can help protect your institution by verifying: 

  • Suspicious or spoofed emails
  • Invoice requests
  • Account changes
  • Wire requests

In addition, you can validate sender identities against millions of data points found in our Collective Intelligence Network to ensure you are working with organizations you can trust.

Learn more about how our Email AI and other fraud solutions can offer your financial institutions unparalleled protection against spear phishing and other fraud schemes.