BEC Attacks: Can You Stop the Imposters in Your Inbox?

BEC attacks are a $1.8 billion dollar racket — and statistically, your business will be targeted sooner rather than later. Watch this webinar to learn how to stop them.

If asked which of the threat types tracked by the FBI causes the most financial damage, most people would say ransomware.

They’d be wrong.

In 2021, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received 19,954 Business Email Compromise (BEC) reports, with adjusted losses totaling almost $2.4 billion. That’s an average of more than $120,270 per incident, compared with just under $13,200 per incident for ransomware attacks.

Since the FBI began tracking these threats in 2013, tens of billions in financial losses have been recorded, resulting from nearly 170,000 incidents in 178 countries.

So why hasn’t this threat risen to the notoriety of ransomware?

During many ransomware attacks, business operations grind to a halt. When a company loses access to customer information, payment systems and mission-critical applications, it often becomes clear in short order that something is wrong.

But BEC attacks are comparatively silent. Even when these attacks have a huge impact on an organization’s bottom line, operations can generally continue as usual. As a result, businesses frequently opt to keep these attacks out of the public eye to avoid risking reputation damage and loss of trust.

But although ransomware still dominates security news, the growing frequency, volume and cost of BEC attacks have begun attracting more attention.

As a result, BEC attacks have become a top threat concern for many organizations today, according to a recent SonicWall-sponsored white paper by Osterman Research. “How to Deal with Business Email Compromise” reports primary research data from an in-depth customer survey of 119 respondents, each of which has direct knowledge of how their organization is addressing or planning to address the risk of BEC.

The results from this study offer a look at how security influencers and decision-makers are taking BEC into account when formulating their spending plans for the next 12 months. For example, while just 46% of organizations said they considered protecting against BEC attacks “important” or “extremely important” 12 months ago, 76% said they considered it important or extremely important today.

Image describing BEC Importance


Organizations indicating that protecting against BEC attacks in 2023 is of high importance

The data also shows that three-fifths of organizations in the study view protecting against BEC attacks as one of their top five security priorities.


Organizations ranking protecting against BEC attacks as one of their top five priorities.

How BEC Attacks Fly Under the Radar

But what makes BEC attacks so dangerous when compared with other forms of cyberattacks? And why are they harder to stop?

BEC is a specialized type of phishing attack that relies on social engineering. They often use a proven pretexting technique to engineer a quick introduction and establish a believable scenario in order to manipulate the victim to take a specific action.

While these attacks can target employees at any level of an organization, they generally start with an attacker impersonating a person with authority, such as a CEO or CFO, a manager, or a supplier. The attacker uses the authority figure’s identity to start a chain of plausible (but fake) requests to gain monetary payment. This typically involves instructing someone in accounts payable, someone in HR or even someone with a company credit card to pay a fake invoice, transfer funds, send gift cards or make payroll payouts. The urgent tone of these messages encourages the victim to respond or act quickly, bypassing any checks and balances that may be in place.

Compared with other forms of cyberattacks, BEC attacks are among the hardest to detect because the threat signals are far less obvious. Relying on trickery and impersonation, the approach is very subtle, and the actual delivery generally doesn’t use weaponized URLs or malicious attachments, which are easily detected.

In addition, the email content and the delivery mechanism are usually of higher quality and often tailored to target a specific person or persons. With little to no apparent sign of a threat, these messages can bypass most email security filters to reach the inbox — and the absence of any sort of alert, such as a contextual warning advising them to exercise caution, leaves the victim more vulnerable to falling for the scam.

Because so many of these scams are successful, their use has grown dramatically — today, roughly 80% of companies targeted by BEC attacks each year. While there isn’t much you can do to avoid being targeted, there’s plenty you can do to safeguard your organization’s finances. To learn more about BEC attacks and how to stop them, check out our webinar, “Can You Stop the Imposters in Your Inbox?

2018 Holiday Cyber Threat Data: Final Analysis Shows Big Ransomware Spikes in US, UK

It’s no secret that consumers flock to online retailers during the holiday shopping season between Thanksgiving and the New Year.

Last month, SonicWall provided deep cyber threat data for the nine-day window that included Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the U.S. Over this specific period, SonicWall Capture Labs threat researchers found that SonicWall customers faced 91 million malware attacks (34 percent decrease over 2017) and 889,933 ransomware attacks (432 percent increase over 2017).

But cyberattacks are hardly static. And they definitely don’t cease once Cyber Monday comes and goes. For this reason, SonicWall collected and analyzed threat data from the full December holiday shopping season to complement its Cyber Week threat analysis.

In the U.S., ransomware and phishing volume more than doubled compared to 2017, while malware was slightly down. In December alone, SonicWall Capture Labs threat researchers recorded:

  • 2.7 million ransomware attacks (up 177 percent)
  • 276.4 million malware attacks (down 27 percent from 2017)
  • 797,607 phishing attacks (up 116 percent)

In the U.K., ransomware spiked four-fold while malware and phishing attacks were relatively flat. For December, SonicWall Capture Labs logged:

  • 527,734 ransomware attacks (up 432 percent)
  • 52.1 million malware attacks (down 2 percent from 2017
  • 30,740 phishing attacks (no increase over 2017)

SonicWall will soon publish additional global December cyber threat data across all attack types, including encrypted threats, intrusion attempts and web application attacks.

Real-Time Threat Intelligence with SonicWall Capture Security Center

SonicWall cyber threat intelligence is available in the SonicWall Capture Security Center, which provides a graphical view of the worldwide attacks over the last 24 hours, countries being attacked and geographic attack origins.

The SonicWall Capture Security Center provides actionable cyber threat intelligence to help organizations identify the types of attacks they need to be concerned about so they can design and test their security posture ensure their networks, data, applications and customers are properly protected.

Exclusive Video: SonicWall CEO Bill Conner & CTO John Gmuender

SonicWall President and CEO Bill Conner and CTO John Gmuender walk you through the current cyber threat landscape, explore the importance of automated real-time breach detection and prevention, and address how to mitigate today’s most modern cyberattacks.

May 2018: Cyberattack Volume Continues to Rise, Ransomware Attempts Jump 299 Percent

The very latest cyber threat intelligence for May 2018 depicts increases in a number of attack areas, particularly when comparing against 2017 cyber threat data. Through May 2018, the SonicWall Capture Labs threat researches have recorded:

Global Cyberattacks — May 2018

  • 2 million malware attacks (64 percent year-over-year increase)
  • 9 million ransomware attacks (78 percent year-over-year increase)
  • 238,828 encrypted threats (142 percent year-over-year increase)

Global Cyberattacks — Year to Date

  • 5 billion malware attacks (128 percent increase )
  • 2 million ransomware attacks (299 percent increase)
  • 2 million encrypted threats (283 percent increase)

To put these numbers in a more practical light, it’s helpful to break them down by customer. In May 2018 alone, the average SonicWall customer faced:

  • 2,302 malware attacks (56 percent year-over-year increase)
  • 62 ransomware attacks (69 percent year-over-year increase)
  • Almost 94 encrypted threats
  • Over 14 phishing attacks per day

With each passing month, cybercriminals continue to perpetrate cyberattacks at an ever-accelerating rate. It is interesting to note that although encrypted traffic is actually down slightly when compared with last year, encrypted threats have more than doubled. This points to cybercriminals who are more aware of the efficacy of encrypting their attacks.

In addition, phishing attacks have increased by almost 40 percent since last month. To better educate your end users and follow secure email best practices, use the phishing IQ test to increase their suspicions when opening emails, particularly from unknown senders.

As the cyber war continues between threat actors and security professionals, arming your organization with the latest cyber threat intelligence is critical to implementing or improving a sound security posture. As long as vulnerabilities exist, there are threat actors working to exploit them.

Find Threat Metrics When You Need Them

Would you like to keep up-to-date on threat metrics, security news and worldwide cyberattacks? The SonicWall Security Center has all of this and more.


Phishing Threats – How to Identify and Avoid Targeted Email Attacks

Phishing threats have been around for years. By now anyone can easily detect a fake email, right?

Wrong. How confident are you that you wouldn’t divulge your password, credit card info or online identity? Here is a quick refresher on phishing threats and what you can do to protect yourself.

What is Phishing?

As you may already know, phishing threats involve malicious emails that attempt to get you to disclose your personably identifiable information (PII) to compromise your personal identity or corporate data.

Hackers create emails that look like official communications from familiar companies. These are sent to millions of unsuspecting addresses in hopes that someone will follow the links and share sensitive information that the hackers can exploit. These phishing emails employ a variety of techniques.

How to Spot Phishing Attacks

The best way to protect yourself from phishing threats is to recognize and avoid these common phishing tactics:

  • Generic greetings: The opening lines of phishing emails are often very vague and general in nature.
  • Typos or Poor Grammar: A poorly written email is less likely to have come from a legitimate company. In addition, do not be tricked if the email happens to include a legitimate-looking logo.
  • Urgency: Phishing emails often sound alarmist, trying to scare you into taking action (and sharing your information) immediately.
  • Fake Links: Phishing emails routinely obscure the URL addresses, and instead take you to an unsecured site where your sensitive data is solicited. To see exactly where a link will take you, simply hover over it. If in doubt, don’t click it. Instead, open a new browser session and manually enter the address (i.e., don’t copy and paste) you want to visit.
  • Attachments: Delivered via email attachments, malware that is executed (i.e., the attachment is opened) allows a hacker to exploit vulnerabilities on your computer Never open an attachment unless you are sure it is legitimate, safe and expected. Be cautious with any unexpected invoices from companies you’re not familiar with, as attachments might contain malware that installs upon opening.
  • Spoofed Sender: Makes it easier for a hacker to impersonate someone you’d normally trust (e.g., coworker, bank, government agency)

Take the Phishing IQ Test

Interested in seeing how well you are at telling the difference between a legitimate website and one that is a phishing attempt? Take the SonicWall Phishing IQ Test to find out.