Tom explains, "Let me break down how this scam works. A controller or finance type is told via email by the CFO or CEO to wire money to such and such account for what appears to be valid business reasons. Being good employees and not wanting to disregard the CEO or CFO, they follow directions to do so."
I have seen increasing number of articles on sites like Krebs on Security on a growing scam called “CEO fraud,” whereby cyber-criminals are using social engineering to get executives to wire funds to them.
One recent example was tech company Ubiquiti Networks that was swindled out of $47 million. Another example is an Atlanta company that was scammed out $1.8 million. Also known as the “business email compromise” (BEC) scam, the FBI reports that over 7,000 victims have lost $750 million in the last 2 years and this form of swindling is growing over 270% since the first of this year.
Tom’s firsthand account as a target of this scam
The first attempt was on Feb. 12, 2014, well before this scam had been widely publicized. Our VP of Finance got the following email from Tim (our CFO), which was a forward of a request from me, the CEO:
The attachment was a PDF of wire instructions for a company called “Indeva Corporation” that actually had a Citi Bank account in the US as shown below (most other wire scams I read about were overseas wires to China).
The VP of Finance replied to “Tim” saying she needed to work with our accounting manager to make this happen, and “Tim” replied stressing the urgency.
Centrify had a division of labour, a set of policies and approvals for wire transfers and as it happened the VP of Finance was in an office next to the real Tim. She happened to bump into Tim in the hallway and mentioned that she vectored my request to the accounting manager but she still needed proper documentation for the wire. Tim replied “what?” and asked to see the email. I finally stroll into work and Tim sees me walking by his office and asks me about me requesting a wire transfer that morning, and I say “huh?,” confirming to us all that a scam was on.
The email was sent from a look-alike domain called “centrilfy.com” which looks a lot like “centrify.com.”
The scary thing was that when we finally got through to a real human at Vistaprint (where the domain was registered for free for 30 days), they admitted to us that a bunch of other sound alike domains had been created that morning to target at least 50+ other companies.
It is interesting that the cyber-criminals not only spent the time to research (via our website and probably Linkedin) who’s who at our company in terms of CEO, CFO and the person in our G&A department who likely processes wire transfers, but then set up a look-alike domain name and email accounts of our CFO, etc. on that domain.
After all of this set up, they sent out emails from these accounts (and did all this for at least 50+ other companies in the same timeframe). It is scary to think that if one of the 50 companies did not follow proper process regarding documentation and approval for wire transfers, the crooks could make an easy $350k.
Centrify is a leader in securing enterprise identities against cyber-threats that target today’s hybrid IT environment of cloud, mobile and on-premises. If anyone knows about cyber-crime, it should be them.
What is interesting is that while it has good policies many companies do not. What is also interesting is that while its employees have good face-to-face communication many companies do not.
What is also interesting is that cyber-criminals have the labour resources to do the research and launch such a campaign – to hundreds of companies.
Finally, cyber-criminals work on the law of averages. Send out tens of thousands – no make that millions of phishing emails, get a 1% response.