Digital Criminals Retargeting the C-Suite with Success

C-level leaders, beware! Their online actions, clicks, and likes are being watched by a new breed of hackers.

These cybercriminals are honing their attacks with information that is already available. They are using social media, stolen credentials, and social engineering to target. And they are successful.

The new conclusion comes from the 12th Verizon 2019 Data Breach Investigations Report. It showed a strong correlation between rising social-engineering attacks and C-level account breaches.

The report noted that senior executives are 12 times more likely to be a social incident victim. They are also nine times more likely to be the target of social breaches than in previous years.

Money appears to be the biggest motivation. The report showed that 12% of breaches were financially-motivated social engineering attacks. While C-level executives are the biggest target group, all employees are being victimized.

One of the reasons was information availability. Verizon Global Enterprise, which authored the report, urged companies to be cautious when sharing insights.

“Enterprises are increasingly using edge-based applications to deliver credible insights and experience. Supply chain data, video, and other critical – often personal – data will be assembled and analyzed at eye-blink speed, changing how applications utilize secure network capabilities” said George Fischer, president of Verizon Global Enterprise.

“Security must remain front and center when implementing these new applications and architectures,” he added.

Many of these attacks target C-level executive behaviors. Their tendency to review emails in haste are allowing suspicious emails to get through. Verizon Global Enterprise noted that the increasing success of social attacks such as business email compromises (BECS), which represented 370 incidents or 248 confirmed breaches of those analyzed, could be linked to a stressful business environment combined with a lack of focused cybercrime education.

Storing and sharing information on the cloud is exposing another vulnerability. The report found that there was a substantial shift toward the compromise of cloud-based email accounts via the use of stolen credentials. Also, publishing errors in the cloud are increasing year-over-year. Misconfiguration ("Miscellaneous Errors") led to several massive, cloud-based file storage breaches, exposing at least 60 million records as analyzed by the report. This accounted for 21% of breaches caused by errors.

“As businesses embrace new digital ways of working, many are unaware of the new security risks to which they may be exposed. They really need access to cyber detection tools to gain access to a daily view of their security posture, supported with statistics on the latest cyber threats. Security needs to be seen as a flexible and smart strategic asset that constantly delivers to the businesses, and impacts the bottom line,” said Bryan Sartin, executive director of security professional services at Verizon.

The shift on breach emphasis is impacting other areas of the cybercrime. The report noted that attacks on Human Resource personnel decreased by 6 times compared to last year. Crypto-mining attacks were “hardly existent.” And external threats accounted for 69% of attacks, as opposed to insider attacks of 34%. Meanwhile, POS attacks in retail decreased by a factor of 10.

One important data point was the rise of cyber-espionage. The report noted that 47% of public sector breaches were only discovered "years after the initial attack."

Yet, the main problem still remains about a lack of security awareness and poor attitude. "However, even though we see specific targets and attack locations change, ultimately, the tactics used by the criminals remain the same. There is an urgent need for businesses – large and small – to put the security of their business and protection of customer data first. Often even basic security practices and common sense deter cybercrime,” Sartin said.