Whaling attacks target specific individuals within an organization, such as senior level executives. Cybercriminals use these attacks to deceive executives into providing access or funds transfers that they shouldn’t. Such fraudulence can result in financial losses, data breaches and even irreparable reputational damage – the ultimate goals being financial gain or worse.
Whaling attacks involve hackers impersonating high-level employees to send emails that look official, often with alarmist language such as “urgent” or “important.” Clicking links from these emails could install ransomware, keyloggers or rootkits onto victim computers which will eventually cause data loss and revenue losses for their target company.
Whaling attacks against top level executives often exploit more publicly accessible information to impersonate them, making these attacks particularly devastating to companies and their employees.
What is a Whaling Attack?
Whaling attacks are a type of spear-phishing scam in which cybercriminals pose as high-level employees of an organization, in order to deceive other staff into handing over sensitive data or transfering money. Whaling attacks target CEOs (Chief Executive Officers), CFOs (Chief Financial Officers), CIOs (Chief Information Officers), and board members due to their access to company systems, insights into strategic decisions, and confidential data.
Once attackers gain entry, they can install malicious software such as ransomware, keyloggers and rootkits to gain entry and monitor company networks or steal confidential customer data. They can even employ whaling techniques to blackmail or threaten top executives with embarrassing, sensitive or damaging material.
Emails sent to senior-level employees may contain persuasively urgent requests, such as those to wire funds. Emails may even include phone calls to add urgency and credibility to their request. Hackers can use fake social media profiles to find work email addresses published publicly online that they can use to spoof executives – known as social engineering; an example of whaling attacks occurred when storage device manufacturer Seagate lost $3 Million due to Chinese cybercriminal gangs impersonating its CEO, for example.
How does Whaling Attacks Work?
Whaling attacks combine social engineering, email spoofing and content spoofing techniques. Hackers typically conduct research on their target to learn personal details that make their impersonation more plausible; additionally they view professional profiles on social media in order to gather insight into which types of messages their target receives on a regular basis.
High-ranking executives are vulnerable to attack due to their access to valuable company assets and confidential data, often for reasons such as greed, personal vendetta or competitive pressures.
Whaling attacks use fake domains and urgent requests from cybercriminals to lure targets into sending sensitive data or making wire transfers. Criminals may follow-up emails with phone calls to make the request seem more legitimate. Whaling attacks have the potential to result in significant financial losses for companies, including an unauthorized transfer of funds or distribution of malware (ransomware or keyloggers) which expose internal data; reputation damage with employees, customers and business partners alike can also occur – for example a storage device manufacturer was the victim of such an attack which exposed employee wage information and social security numbers to criminals.
How to recognize a whaling attack?
Phishing attacks tend to use broad nets in order to catch as many victims as possible, while whaling attacks target specific targets, like top executives. Cybercriminals refer to this attack method as “whaling,” as they seek out high-profile individuals with access to financial resources and sensitive data that they can exploit for gain.
Attackers identify potential targets by reviewing social media accounts and researching work histories, then send a forged email from what seems like a colleague or trusted contact, encouraging victims to perform actions which could benefit themselves – like sending money or disclosing sensitive company data.
Whaling attacks can do serious damage to businesses, from financial losses and data breaches to reputational harm and compliance violations such as PCI DSS, HIPAA and GDPR compliance regulations. Companies should incorporate preventive measures into their cybersecurity infrastructures as a precaution against these types of attacks, training employees on how to recognize such threats and using zero trust security to defend against whaling phishing attacks.
How to block a whaling attack?
Organizations can reduce the impact of whaling attacks by providing education on risks to employees as well as regular cybersecurity awareness training, with special attention paid to high-profile targets. Training should include simulating phishing attacks as a test to gauge security preparedness of management and executive staff.
As another way to safeguard executives against BEC attacks, requiring two individuals sign off on any significant financial transactions is a great way to reduce hackers from taking advantage of an individual’s authority by initiating or authorizing large transactions without their knowledge or approval – even when these requests seem urgent or legitimate.
At its core, the best way to protect against whaling attacks is educating employees on the signs of an attack and encouraging them to always question any communications that seem out-of-the-ordinary. Coupled with robust infrastructure that fosters zero trust can help your organization protect itself against cybercriminals hunting whales. In the event of such an attack occurring within your organization’s ranks, immediately notify IT and security teams so they can evaluate and react appropriately.
Prevent whaling phishing with Mimecast
As with phishing attacks, whaling attacks involve coercing targets into taking unwanted action. When targeted against high-level executives, whaling attackers typically pose as trusted colleagues and persuade victims to send money or reveal confidential data. Whaling can have various objectives: financial gain (by misleading victims into sending funds directly to attacker) or corporate espionage (by stealing data or credentials that can later be sold illegally on black markets).
Hackers need a detailed knowledge of their target in order to craft convincing whaling emails that fool recipients. This may involve scanning social media accounts for photos or updates that could help build trust between themselves and their targets; for instance, if an executive lists their primary work email address on public profiles, attackers could use this to determine when he/she might be away from the office.
Some whaling attacks involve phone calls that serve to verify or emphasize urgency in requests made over email, so it’s vital that executives only accept phone calls from known sources and do not click links in unsolicited emails.
Examples of Whaling Attacks
Goals of whaling attacks depend on both an attacker’s motivations and level of access to their target organization. Common goals may include financial gain through fraudulent wire transfers or theft of sensitive company data (such as business strategies or intellectual property), distribution of malware (ransomware, keyloggers or rootkits) as well as gaining credentials into victim networks or email accounts for future cyber attacks.
Targets of whaling attacks typically include senior-level executives within an organization, such as CEOs and CFOs with access to financial resources or confidential company information. Company board members are also frequently targeted due to their insight into strategic decisions and access to sensitive company data.
Pathe’s 2016 whaling attack stands out as an extreme example of this form of cybercrime, leading them to experience a $21.5 million loss and leading them to fire their CEO and CFO as a result. Austrian aerospace manufacturer FACC was hit with losses exceeding $55 million after someone in its finance department followed a fake Zoom link and sent money directly to cyber criminals.
Defending Against Whaling Attacks
Whaling attacks can be difficult to spot and prevent, often resulting in substantial financial and reputational harm for companies. But companies can strengthen their defenses against whaler attacks by employing multistep verification processes for requests requiring money transfers or access to sensitive data, and by employing data protection policies which detect emails coming from unknown sources or with display names that differ from what the recipient trusts as well as emails with display names that don’t match up with trusted addresses.
As part of an overall security strategy, staff should also be trained to trust their instincts when evaluating email requests. If an executive receives one from an individual they suspect of, for example, they should contact them immediately via phone to validate whether the request is legitimate and so help deter potential phishing attack vectors such as impersonation and content spoofing, as well as cybercriminal groups’ use of fake domains.
IT teams should actively monitor the digital ecosystem to identify and close any vulnerabilities that attackers could exploit. This can be accomplished with continuous vulnerability scanning that detects misconfigured security controls, open ports, unpatched software or any other potential entryways for attackers into an organization’s network.
What is a spear-phishing attack?
Phishing attacks have long been a source of data breaches, financial losses and damage to business operations. Skilled hackers use initial unauthorized accesses to launch ongoing, longer-term attacks with repeated incidents of fraud, loss of sensitive information and business disruption resulting from longer-term attacks launched from initial unauthorized entry points.
Spear phishing is more targeted and researched-driven than untargeted phishing. Attackers take the time to research their targets by gathering personal details posted to social media accounts, their job titles or organizational charts or public websites; then craft messages that appear from trusted sources with an urgency prompt to convince their victims to act upon them.
Email security best practices include using a strong password, avoiding attachments from unknown sources and reviewing all links in an email before clicking them. A DMARC rule may also assist by blocking messages spoofing your domain name; training employees on how to recognize impostor messages can further decrease risks from spear-phishing attacks on your company.
Whaling Attack is a type of spear phishing used by cybercriminals to deceive high-level decision makers within an organization and gain money or access to sensitive data.
Whaling attacks differ from traditional phishing attempts in that they use more tailored information from public sources to appear legitimate and thus become especially dangerous for businesses.
Why is it called a whaling attack?
Whaling attacks, more commonly known as CEO fraud or executive phishing, are a type of phishing attack designed to gain entry to company funds or steal sensitive data from top executives. Similar to other forms of phishing attacks, whaling uses social engineering techniques in order to trick their targets into taking actions such as transferring money or providing information directly to attackers. Whaling cyberthreats may lead to financial loss, revenue reduction and damage to a company’s reputation.
Cybercriminals often target senior members of an organization’s workforce because they possess access to more sensitive internal data and more power over key business operations. Board of director members are popular targets as they possess insider knowledge and system access; members of finance departments and IT teams also present potential threats because they manage critical data with access to it.
How to prevent whaling attacks?
Though cybersecurity tools provide support, employees also must recognize whaling attacks when they occur. To do this, organizations should provide regular cyber awareness training tailored to executives and financial teams, with special instruction for both executives and teams responsible for financial functions. Simulated phishing exercises help familiarise staff with attackers’ tactics and behavior.
Whaling attacks typically aim to force recipients into taking an unwanted action or downloading malware by creating pressure tactics, such as clicking a link or opening an attachment. Targets of whaling attacks include CFO, CEO and other senior management staff who possess access to critical company systems; human resources personnel as well as IT specialists could be exposed as these departments handle employee data and credentials for access.
Whaling attacks can result in business espionage, theft of trade secrets and distribution of malware such as keyloggers or ransomware that is sold on black markets or used to gain entry to accounts within an organization and steal sensitive customer details for blackmail purposes – leading to lost credibility, revenue and reputation as well as costly regulatory fines or lawsuits for the victim. Such attacks can be prevented with advanced email filtering technologies using domain authentication protocols like DMARC, SPF and DKIM for spam filtering technology to filter emails before they enter into their targets’ networks preventing access. Such types of attacks can be stopped with email filtering technologies using domain authentication protocols like DMARC SPF and DKIM technologies as these types of attacks can stop such an attack in its tracks – the type of attack can only stop its victims by the attacker gaining entry.
Whaling attacks rely on social engineering techniques to convince high-ranking employees into providing access to valuable data, often through deceptively written emails resembling company correspondence but concealing malicious attachments or links that lure victims in.
High-ranking executives and members of the C-suite typically enjoy greater public visibility than other company staff, making them ideal targets for whaling attacks. Hackers conduct extensive research to target them – including their public persona, work history and any publicly available information – before gradually building trust with their target. Once trust has been achieved, cybercriminals can impersonate trusted colleagues to steal confidential data or money.
Based on their role, victims may include employee payroll or sensitive financial data theft; transferring large sums of money; etc. For instance, in 2016 FACC CEO was fired due to involvement in an alleged whaling attack which defrauded them out of $58 Million in 2016.
Whaling attacks can expose sensitive data or money, as well as cause severe harm to a business’ reputation and bottom line. One instance was in 2020, when Levitas Capital co-founder followed a fake Zoom link that installed malware onto their system resulting in millions of dollars being stolen by cyber thieves. While the risks may seem great, there are ways to prevent being victims of whaling attacks; one strategy is for staff in leadership positions like C-suite positions to remain suspicious when receiving unsolicited emails, attachments or links when received via C-suite positions – especially those in C-suite positions should always remain vigilant when receiving emails, attachments or links sent from unknown senders – especially those in C-suite positions should remain suspicious when receiving such communications containing links or attachments from unknown senders when receiving any unsolidated emails that contain links in response.