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Spearphishing attacks target boards

Maria Korolov | June 21, 2016
With great power comes great responsibility -- and also a great big target painted on your head.

With great power comes great responsibility -- and also a great big target painted on your head. At least, that's the case lately with corporate boards of directors and cybercriminals launching spearphishing attacks.

"Since the beginning of the year we have serviced about 350 different clients that have had spearphishing attacks," said Michael Bruemmer, vice president for data breach resolution at Experian Information Solutions. "About a third were specifically targeted at board members."

Board members get emails asking them for tax information or requesting bank transfers, which they typically forward to the company employee who is responsible and asking them to take care of it.

In addition, they also get phishing emails specifically targeting them as board members.

"We're seeing that the board members are not being prepared for a phishing email or to recognize a social engineering attempt," Bruemmer said.

Clients have reported losses of financial statements, cybersecurity strategy documents and protocols, and intellectual property such as new patents and inventions, and classified documents.

And it's not just spearphishing that's a problem, he added.

"Most board members use personal email accounts to handle board communications so they don't get mixed with the emails from the companies where they work," he said. "These are less secure, and we have seen examples of these accounts having been compromised."

For example, many users have the same login credentials for their email accounts as they do for other websites, he said.

"It's definitely a problem," said Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder at research company Ponemon Institute. "This is a definite area of vulnerability for many organizations. In our research, there were a number of cases where board members shared sensitive or confidential information, usually not maliciously."

Last week, Ponemon released a report about protecting confidential company information.

One company aware of the risks is Orrstown Bank, which has 25 branches in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

"These are all things that we definitely worry about," said Andrew Linn, CISO at the Shippensburg, Pa.,-based Orrstown Bank.

The bank currently provides an Orrstown bank email address to its board members, as well as security training. Over the last few months, the bank has also begun rolling out mobile device management from Good Technology, now owned by Blackberry.

This allows confidential bank data to be isolated from personal data on the directors' devices.

"We have the ability to wipe that container and now have it available to anyone else who might stumble on the device," Linn said.

Board members also get iPads where they can click on an app icon to get access to information, he added.

So far, he said, board members have been understanding about the need for security, but he recommended that the directors be educated about security from a business perspective.

 

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