Spear Phishing Attacks Costing Financial Sector More Money and Downtime

“There is a problem with your PayPal. Please click here to log in.”

“Hi, I’m your CEO. I need you to check this link out right now.”

“This is your work’s IT department. Do you have a minute to reply with some information?”

A spear phishing attack can look like this. It’s personal. Even invasive. Unlike traditional phishing, which sprays millions of emails to random inboxes—spear phishing is targeted. And the financial sector is in the crosshairs. 

Barracuda Networks warns that spear phishing is on the rise and a growing concern for the financial services sector. It’s a constant battle as organizations face a barrage of at least five spear phishing emails every day. 

What Is Spear Phishing and Why Is It a Growing Problem?

Spear phishing is a refinement of blanket phishing, which sprays millions of emails to random inboxes. The difference is that attackers dig deep across social media to gather information on you when they decide to spear phish.

They find out:

  • What you do.
  • Who your colleagues are.
  • Whether you work in HR, C-Suite, security, etc.
  • Where you and your colleagues plan to vacation.
  • The names of your family members.
  • Anything you make available to view on your LinkedIn account.

The rule that grew up with the internet—everything you post is public—is still true. And with so many people sharing more on social media and professional networking sites, hackers have all the leverage they need to send out a targeted email. 

These messages look like they’re from your boss, coworker, IT department, or even Mom or Dad. It’s the leverage hackers use to remove doubt. By using familiar people in your life who you trust, they can catch you off guard. Such emails are far more successful for obvious reasons.

The report attributes 0.1% of all email-based attacks to personalized spear phishing. Yet, it accounts for 66% of all breaches. There’s no doubt spear phishing is a powerful tool for hackers and criminals. Security personnel in the financial services industry have every right to be concerned about the effectiveness of these attacks.

Are You Prepared to Lose $280,000?

The financial losses from spear phishing are so significant that the FBI has become more and more involved. In June 2023, they charged and arrested 11 people from Texas and New York for business email compromise (BEC), wire fraud, and money laundering. They posed as legitimate businesses deceiving victims into transferring money from their own bank accounts. 

According to the charges, they gained access to business email accounts and spoofed email addresses to deceive victims into believing they were making legitimate payments. They posed as a vendor collecting payments and tricked a New Jersey township into wiring $287,236 to a fraudulent bank account.

Despite the capture in this case, countless others successfully elude capture with their unlawfully acquired millions. The financial services sector is heavily impacted by this scam, as highlighted in the recent Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report (DBIR).

The financial and insurance industries have a target on their back,” said Suzanne Widup, a researcher at Verizon who worked on the DBIR. “These industries have the most easily monetizable data.”

Peace of Mind For Financial Enterprises

How can financial services organizations protect and defend against these cyber-attacks? 

In the financial industry, it is long believed that confidentiality is often the biggest cybersecurity objective. That means safeguarding customer and organization data, as well as assets, is a top priority. To do this, you need to be confident that your network and devices are secure. 

Detection – having a firewall and anti-virus software installed on your network – is clearly no longer enough. Prevention has become more critical than ever.

Financial organizations need a way to scan for issues, patch and/or remediate, and monitor their environments before a risk becomes a problem. Unfortunately, the reality is that most of this is done with different sets of tools or happens haphazardly (versus strategically and continuously). 

The ability to see all your enterprise devices and to understand their various states is absolutely critical in shoring up your defenses and helping to prevent an attack.

With a Unified Security and Endpoint Management platform, IT and security teams can detect and address attack vectors, or weaknesses, such as:

  • Risky services, such as open or unsecured ports and protocols
  • Disabled firewalls
  • Out-of-date operating systems that need patches 
  • Software vulnerabilities 
  • Non-compliant devices

Solutions should offer coverage for and insight into Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android devices. And while regular scans to detect OS patches and security weaknesses are foundational, the only way to truly prevent an attack is by having a solution that helps you remediate those issues and reduce your attack surface quickly – without needing to spend hours identifying and applying remediations. 

Finally, financial services organizations should have a platform that helps validate that remediations have actually deployed correctly. This requires real-time connections to devices across your environment, so you aren’t relying on queries from a database with stale data.

If you’re a financial organization looking for a partner to help you see more clearly across your environment and prevent attacks from being successful, why not find out why other financial organizations say Syxsense “is the best piece of management technology” they’ve ever used? 

Schedule a customized demo with us today.