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Fraud Alert: Have Your Employees Been Compromised?

More sophisticated and emerging forms of cyber fraud demonstrate how easy it is to fall victim to this type of threat.
By: | December 1, 2017 • 5 min read

Call it spear phishing, social engineering or business email compromise. This type of scheme has gotten plenty of coverage in recent years — when fraudsters posing as the boss or a vendor, or client convince an authorized employee to wire transfer funds to a fraudulent account, never to be seen again. Historically, it’s been a form of fraud that offers a quick payout and requires little work on the part of the perpetrator.

But now the thieves are changing their tactics.

“The methods used to perpetrate these fraudulent events are evolving. The fraudsters are investing more effort in orchestrating them, as the payouts can be significant. The targeted “windfall” has expanded too. No longer is it limited to a transfer of funds. We’re now seeing schemes resulting in the fraudulent transfer of tangible property,” said Patricia Barrett, Vice President and Head of Fidelity, Starr Companies.

Criminals are setting their sights on a company’s goods, not just their cash.

To pull that off, thieves use a hybrid of traditional fraud and sophisticated cyber tactics. Through hacking and malware, they can spy on a company’s operations, gathering valuable intelligence on executives and employees. Then they use social engineering tactics to trick workers into unwittingly sending a shipment of products their way.

An Emerging Form of Fraud: A Case Study

Patricia Barrett, Vice President and Head of Fidelity

The experience of one small business — a distributor of small electronic devices — demonstrates how easy it is to fall victim to this type of theft. To sell its products, this company relied on its executives traveling to trade shows throughout the year, often for weeks at a time.

A fraudster, posing as a prospective customer, sent a link in an email to the company’s sales department. Once opened, the link set loose malware that allowed the perpetrator to “lie in wait,” watching the moves of company insiders. The fraudster knew who was scheduled to travel, when, and what type of property the traveler would need to have delivered. The fraudster knew the vernacular used by traveling executives, and what the protocol was for change requests.

Back at the office one day, an employee received an email that appeared to be from the chief executive. “Joe, the trade shows are going really well,” he said, “In fact, I’m down to less than a dozen mobile devices; I’m likely to run out before reaching my next stop.” He instructed the employee to send an additional shipment of electronics to the location of the next show in Las Vegas.

But there was a wrinkle. He’d had to change some travel plans and would no longer be staying at the conference hotel. He booked a room at the hotel across the street. He asked the employee to direct the shipment there instead.

Everything about the request made sense. It was feasible that the executive might need more products. He stated correctly where the next show would be. There was no reason to doubt that he had decided to switch hotels.

“The employee never questioned that the instruction came from the chief executive, so he transferred that property to the hotel and the entire shipment was lost,” Barrett said.

Hybrid Tactics

Executing this theft requires in-depth knowledge of a company’s hierarchy, business processes, and of the employees themselves. Because the potential payout is so large, these fraudsters often spend months gathering information before hitting “send” on that fraudulent email.

Malware is often part of their intel-gathering and may be introduced through social engineering. A phony email asking an employee to click a link or download an attachment could be all it takes to get a virus into the system.

By gaining access to the company’s network, thieves can examine billing systems, transaction records and vendor lists, getting a sense of what a normal transfer of goods looks like and who performs them. They can even obtain the executive’s travel itinerary.

They can also glean personal details and communication styles easily from social media.

“The target employee may have posted that he left work early Friday afternoon to attend his son’s baseball game. The copycat executive in the fraudulent email might ask, ‘How was your afternoon off? Who won the game?’” Barrett said. “It builds familiarity. The employee wouldn’t suspect that anyone else would know that level of detail.”

Email is not the only way to perpetrate this type of fraud, however. Criminals can be just as convincing over the phone.

At one organization, the Accounts Payable department received a call from one of their purported vendors, stating that the vendor had consolidated some banking relationships and needed to change the account listed on their contract.

The accounts payable employee sent a change form to an email address provided by the caller. She did not check the master vendor file, but trusted that the email given to her was correct. She did not phone the vendor at a previously verified phone number to validate the request. The caller posing as a vendor sent back the updated form within 15 minutes, and the change was initiated.

The organization proceeded to make three payments to the fraudulent account totaling $700,000. The mistake was not discovered until the real vendor followed up, asking why their payments were delayed.

“The payments slipped through because this was a multi-million-dollar business relationship; and it was not uncommon for them to transact significant business in a short period of time,” Barrett said. “The same tactic could be used to make change orders, diverting a shipment of inventory.”

Coverage Questions

“Though several insurers will consider providing coverage for fraudulent impersonations that result in a loss of funds, a coverage gap still remains for a loss of other tangible property,” Barrett said.

As with the loss of funds, recovering the stolen property in most cases is next to impossible.

“Once discovered, the trail can go cold very quickly,” Barrett said. To recoup the loss, insureds may have to navigate the intersection of crime, fidelity, cyber, and professional liability coverages.

Coloring in the Gray Areas with Prevention and Targeted Coverage

As cyber criminals grow more sophisticated, calculating and patient, companies need solutions that fill in those gray areas so prevalent in the world of cyber threat and fraud.

Starr Companies crafted an endorsement to its crime and fidelity coverages that covers the loss of other tangible property, in addition to loss of funds, resulting from fraudulent impersonation scams.

“The expanded Fraudulent Impersonation endorsement allows a company to secure coverage for loss of funds and loss of other tangible property; The endorsement is flexible in its structure. This allows the coverage to address the risks that are of most concern to a company. Whether the company is concerned about a loss of funds, a loss of other tangible property, or both the endorsement can be crafted to meet that company’s interests,” Barrett said.

It is widely recognized that one of the best defenses against social engineering risks is education at all levels of a company.

With that in mind, Starr’s Fraudulent Impersonation endorsement is accompanied with the offer of the Starr Companies-KnowBe4 Risk Management Program. KnowBe4 is an internationally recognized IT security firm. This program provides valuable risk management tools to assist in reducing the risk to fraudulent impersonation (social engineering) losses. The downloadable documents are designed to be circulated to employees at every level of the insured company/organization. This program is offered by Starr Companies at no cost to the insured. Upon binding, the Insured company will receive an information packet with instructions on how to access an exclusive area of the KnowBe4 website.

“We believe that the combination of this risk management program and the insurance protection is a winning one for businesses of all types and sizes,” Barrett said.

“Our knowledge and expertise enable us to connect clients with expert resources and to tailor coverage to meet each client’s particular exposures and buying needs,” Barrett said.

Reach out to Starr’s Crime & Fidelity team for more information on how a Starr solution can work for you or visit www.starrcompanies.com/insurance/crimeandfidelity.

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This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Starr Companies. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.




Starr Companies is a global commercial insurance and financial services organization that provides innovative risk management solutions.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Cyber Resilience

No, Seriously. You Need a Comprehensive Cyber Incident Response Plan Before It’s Too Late.

Awareness of cyber risk is increasing, but some companies may be neglecting to prepare adequate response plans that could save them millions. 
By: | June 1, 2018 • 7 min read

To minimize the financial and reputational damage from a cyber attack, it is absolutely critical that businesses have a cyber incident response plan.

“Sadly, not all yet do,” said David Legassick, head of life sciences, tech and cyber, CNA Hardy.

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In the event of a breach, a company must be able to quickly identify and contain the problem, assess the level of impact, communicate internally and externally, recover where possible any lost data or functionality needed to resume business operations and act quickly to manage potential reputational risk.

This can only be achieved with help from the right external experts and the design and practice of a well-honed internal response.

The first step a company must take, said Legassick, is to understand its cyber exposures through asset identification, classification, risk assessment and protection measures, both technological and human.

According to Raf Sanchez, international breach response manager, Beazley, cyber-response plans should be flexible and applicable to a wide range of incidents, “not just a list of consecutive steps.”

They also should bring together key stakeholders and specify end goals.

Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions

With bad actors becoming increasingly sophisticated and often acting in groups, attack vectors can hit companies from multiple angles simultaneously, meaning a holistic approach is essential, agreed Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions.

“Collaboration is key — you have to take silos down and work in a cross-functional manner.”

This means assembling a response team including individuals from IT, legal, operations, risk management, HR, finance and the board — each of whom must be well drilled in their responsibilities in the event of a breach.

“You can’t pick your players on the day of the game,” said Hogg. “Response times are critical, so speed and timing are of the essence. You should also have a very clear communication plan to keep the CEO and board of directors informed of recommended courses of action and timing expectations.”

People on the incident response team must have sufficient technical skills and access to critical third parties to be able to make decisions and move to contain incidents fast. Knowledge of the company’s data and network topology is also key, said Legassick.

“Perhaps most important of all,” he added, “is to capture in detail how, when, where and why an incident occurred so there is a feedback loop that ensures each threat makes the cyber defense stronger.”

Cyber insurance can play a key role by providing a range of experts such as forensic analysts to help manage a cyber breach quickly and effectively (as well as PR and legal help). However, the learning process should begin before a breach occurs.

Practice Makes Perfect

“Any incident response plan is only as strong as the practice that goes into it,” explained Mike Peters, vice president, IT, RIMS — who also conducts stress testing through his firm Sentinel Cyber Defense Advisors.

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Unless companies have an ethical hacker or certified information security officer on board who can conduct sophisticated simulated attacks, Peters recommended they hire third-party experts to test their networks for weaknesses, remediate these issues and retest again for vulnerabilities that haven’t been patched or have newly appeared.

“You need to plan for every type of threat that’s out there,” he added.

Hogg agreed that bringing third parties in to conduct tests brings “fresh thinking, best practice and cross-pollination of learnings from testing plans across a multitude of industries and enterprises.”

“Collaboration is key — you have to take silos down and work in a cross-functional manner.” — Jason J. Hogg, CEO, Aon Cyber Solutions

Legassick added that companies should test their plans at least annually, updating procedures whenever there is a significant change in business activity, technology or location.

“As companies expand, cyber security is not always front of mind, but new operations and territories all expose a company to new risks.”

For smaller companies that might not have the resources or the expertise to develop an internal cyber response plan from whole cloth, some carriers offer their own cyber risk resources online.

Evan Fenaroli, an underwriting product manager with the Philadelphia Insurance Companies (PHLY), said his company hosts an eRiskHub, which gives PHLY clients a place to start looking for cyber event response answers.

That includes access to a pool of attorneys who can guide company executives in creating a plan.

“It’s something at the highest level that needs to be a priority,” Fenaroli said. For those just getting started, Fenaroli provided a checklist for consideration:

  • Purchase cyber insurance, read the policy and understand its notice requirements.
  • Work with an attorney to develop a cyber event response plan that you can customize to your business.
  • Identify stakeholders within the company who will own the plan and its execution.
  • Find outside forensics experts that the company can call in an emergency.
  • Identify a public relations expert who can be called in the case of an event that could be leaked to the press or otherwise become newsworthy.

“When all of these things fall into place, the outcome is far better in that there isn’t a panic,” said Fenaroli, who, like others, recommends the plan be tested at least annually.

Cyber’s Physical Threat

With the digital and physical worlds converging due to the rise of the Internet of Things, Hogg reminded companies: “You can’t just test in the virtual world — testing physical end-point security is critical too.”

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How that testing is communicated to underwriters should also be a key focus, said Rich DePiero, head of cyber, North America, Swiss Re Corporate Solutions.

Don’t just report on what went well; it’s far more believable for an underwriter to hear what didn’t go well, he said.

“If I hear a client say it is perfect and then I look at some of the results of the responses to breaches last year, there is a disconnect. Help us understand what you learned and what you worked out. You want things to fail during these incident response tests, because that is how we learn,” he explained.

“Bringing in these outside firms, detailing what they learned and defining roles and responsibilities in the event of an incident is really the best practice, and we are seeing more and more companies do that.”

Support from the Board

Good cyber protection is built around a combination of process, technology, learning and people. While not every cyber incident needs to be reported to the boardroom, senior management has a key role in creating a culture of planning and risk awareness.

David Legassick, head of life sciences, tech and cyber, CNA Hardy

“Cyber is a boardroom risk. If it is not taken seriously at boardroom level, you are more than likely to suffer a network breach,” Legassick said.

However, getting board buy-in or buy-in from the C-suite is not always easy.

“C-suite executives often put off testing crisis plans as they get in the way of the day job. The irony here is obvious given how disruptive an incident can be,” said Sanchez.

“The C-suite must demonstrate its support for incident response planning and that it expects staff at all levels of the organization to play their part in recovering from serious incidents.”

“What these people need from the board is support,” said Jill Salmon, New York-based vice president, head of cyber/tech/MPL, Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance.

“I don’t know that the information security folks are looking for direction from the board as much as they are looking for support from a resources standpoint and a visibility standpoint.

“They’ve got to be aware of what they need and they need to have the money to be able to build it up to that level,” she said.

Without that support, according to Legassick, failure to empower and encourage the IT team to manage cyber threats holistically through integration with the rest of the organization, particularly risk managers, becomes a common mistake.

He also warned that “blame culture” can prevent staff from escalating problems to management in a timely manner.

Collaboration and Communication

Given that cyber incident response truly is a team effort, it is therefore essential that a culture of collaboration, preparation and practice is embedded from the top down.

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One of the biggest tripping points for companies — and an area that has done the most damage from a reputational perspective — is in how quickly and effectively the company communicates to the public in the aftermath of a cyber event.

Salmon said of all the cyber incident response plans she has seen, the companies that have impressed her most are those that have written mock press releases and rehearsed how they are going to respond to the media in the aftermath of an event.

“We have seen so many companies trip up in that regard,” she said. “There have been examples of companies taking too long and then not explaining why it took them so long. It’s like any other crisis — the way that you are communicating it to the public is really important.” &

Antony Ireland is a London-based financial journalist. He can be reached at [email protected] Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]