Saturday, July 13, 2024

What is Business Email Compromise (BEC) Attacks? – Prevention Guide

BEC, an acronym for Business Email Compromise, is a sophisticated form of cybercrime. Cyber threats have become a pressing concern in a world where almost every aspect of our lives is digitized. One of these threats that have been growing exponentially in recent years is the BEC attacks.

What Are BEC Attacks? 

These attacks are carefully orchestrated scams perpetrated by cybercriminals to trick businesses into transferring money or sensitive information. The attackers usually impersonate a high-ranking official in the company, such as the CEO or CFO, and send an email request for a wire transfer or confidential data to another employee.

They’re not just any random email scams; BEC attacks are highly targeted and involve a great deal of planning and research. The cybercriminals behind them often know a lot about their targets and use this information to make their fraudulent requests seem legitimate. So, it’s no surprise that these attacks pose a significant threat to businesses of all sizes and industries worldwide.

Understanding BEC Attacks 

Process and Mechanics of a BEC Attack

Understanding how BEC attacks work is the first step in preventing them. The process often starts with extensive research. The attackers gather information about the target company and its employees. They look for information such as who is in charge of finances, who they report to, and when these officials will likely be out of the office.

Once they’ve gathered enough information, they craft a convincing email. This email is usually disguised as originating from a high-ranking official and sent to an employee with the authority to transfer funds or access sensitive information. The email will request a wire transfer, often with a sense of urgency to pressure the employee into acting quickly without questioning the request’s legitimacy.

The mechanics of these attacks are what makes them so effective. The attackers exploit the trust and authority of high-ranking officials to bypass traditional security measures. And because the emails are so well-crafted, they can be tough to detect.

Common Forms of BEC Attacks

There are several common forms of BEC attacks. The most common is ‘CEO Fraud,’ where the attacker impersonates the CEO or another top executive. They send an email to an employee in finance, requesting an urgent wire transfer.

Another form is ‘Invoice Scams.’ In these cases, attackers impersonate a vendor or supplier and send a fake invoice to the company. The invoice will typically request payment to a new account controlled by the attacker.

There’s also ‘Account Compromise.’ Here, an attacker hacks into an employee’s email account and sends fraudulent emails to vendors listed in their email contacts. The email will request that future payments are sent to a new account.

The Targets and Motives Behind BEC Attacks

The targets of BEC attacks are typically businesses that work with foreign suppliers or regularly perform wire transfer payments. However, any business can be a target. The motive behind these attacks is simple: money. Cybercriminals are looking for the easiest way to get their hands on your cash.

Prevention of BEC Attacks 

The best way to deal with BEC attacks is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Prevention requires a multi-faceted approach that includes technical, administrative, and human elements.

Email Security Measures

The first line of defense against BEC attacks is implementing robust email security measures. It is essential to use email filtering solutions that can detect and block phishing emails. These solutions can flag emails from outside your organization that are crafted to look like they’re from within.

Furthermore, you should also implement Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance (DMARC), an email authentication protocol. DMARC can prevent attackers from spoofing your organization’s domain in their phishing attempts, significantly reducing the chances of a successful BEC attack.

Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

Multi-factor authentication is another crucial element in preventing BEC attacks. MFA requires users to provide two or more forms of identification before they can access their email accounts or other sensitive systems. This could be something they know (like a password), something they have (like a physical token or a smartphone), or something they are (like a fingerprint or other biometric data).

By implementing MFA, even if a criminal manages to steal an employee’s login credentials through a phishing attack, they would still need the additional factor(s) to access the account. This significantly increases the difficulty for attackers, often deterring them from attempting to compromise your business.

Employee Training

The human element is often the weakest link in cybersecurity. Therefore, regular employee training is essential in preventing BEC attacks. Employees should be taught to identify phishing emails and be aware of the tactics used by cybercriminals in these attacks.

Moreover, it should be emphasized that everyone, regardless of their position in the company, could be a target. Regularly updated training programs can help employees stay abreast of the latest threats and the best practices to mitigate them.

Verify Requests

Given the nature of BEC attacks, it is crucial to establish a process to verify requests for funds or sensitive information, especially if they are unexpected or come from high-ranking individuals. This could be as simple as making a phone call to the person making the request.

The more significant the request, the more critical it is to verify it through multiple channels. This practice can significantly reduce the chances of an employee inadvertently complying with a fraudulent request.

Incident Response Plan

Even with the best preventative measures in place, it’s essential to be prepared for the worst-case scenario—a successful BEC attack. This is where an incident response plan comes into play.

An effective incident response plan should outline the steps immediately after detecting a BEC attack. This includes identifying and isolating affected systems, investigating the breach, notifying affected parties, and reporting the incident to the relevant authorities.

Use of Secure Email Gateways

Secure email gateways can be a valuable tool in the fight against BEC attacks. These solutions provide an additional layer of security, filtering incoming and outgoing emails to identify potential threats.

They use techniques such as link protection and attachment sandboxing to protect against malicious content. Moreover, they can also detect and block emails that attempt to spoof your organization’s domain, reducing the risk of BEC attacks.

Regular Monitoring

Last, regular monitoring of your email systems and network activity can help detect unusual behavior that may indicate a BEC attack. This could include abnormal login patterns, unexpected email forwarding rules, or sudden changes in email volume.

Monitoring tools can automate this process, alerting your IT team to potential threats so they can take swift action. Regular auditing of your systems can also help identify any security gaps that must be addressed.


To summarize, understanding and preventing BEC attacks is critical in today’s digital world. It requires a combination of robust technical measures, comprehensive employee training, and vigilant monitoring. Remember, the cost of preventing these attacks is far less than the potential financial and reputational damage they can cause. So, stay informed, stay prepared, and stay safe.


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