Email in Disguise
The trend of getting voicemail messages through email is opening new doors for hackers to enter computer systems. Scammers are using email with spoofed addresses to hack into business operations, such as wiring money. Today’s office environment provides a perfect setup for a hacker: You hit people when they’re juggling multiple tasks, and you come across as a colleague or customer in an expected environment. We have two examples from our client experiences that show how easy it is for a problem to go undetected. And we have some tips to strengthen your security.
The problem with the voicemails happened while we were on vacation in Hawaii, which has a six-hour time difference with New Jersey. Our client reported getting emails about missed calls – which could have been generated by their voicemail/email system. It’s a growing trend to handle voicemails because phone and email run on the same networks, and sometimes it’s more effective for an employee to click a link and return the call while the message is on the screen.
And that’s how this problem showed up. Every time our client clicked on the link, nothing happened. When we got back from vacation, our first job was to install a new computer for the client. Everything went as planned, but then we got a call that the client only had 11 emails in the system. To make a long story short, it took all day to find all of the emails in a “recovery for deleted emails” folder and restore them – all 75,000 of them. The time was lengthened because we needed to sort them to cull the voice-mail files.
We changed the password immediately to cover the possibility the computer may have been hacked. After that was done, we got a call that our client couldn’t click to return numbers left in voicemails. I left a voicemail, and we were able to get a return call.
The likely issue is that someone from the outside spoofed a known and trusted phone number. The lesson here is that if it happens a second time, don’t click the link. While you may not know if you were hacked or fooled by some malware, you should know that something is wrong and needs attention. The earlier you let us know about it, the sooner we can work with you to mitigate the problem and minimize damage.
A second incident could have been catastrophic. Again, we awoke to find several urgent emails from a client that regularly wires large sums of money to entities worldwide. The incident occurred July 1, when they were preparing to wire nearly $100,000 to an entity. The entity to which they were wiring the money said they hadn’t received their wire in April. That raised alarms. We learned that the amount of money in both transfers was consistent, and the entity to which the money was to be wired could change names from time to time. Everything with the April and July transfers seemed to be within the realm of normal operations.
While we couldn’t get the April money back (the client had insurance to cover it), they were able to halt the July transfer. At the same time, we worked with them to develop new policies to help double-check money-wiring instructions and monitor the process better.
Among the key takeaways from these incidents, you should always be on guard because hackers and cyberthieves are getting much, much better at disguising their identities. When it comes to VOIP and cellular voicemails, it becomes way too easy to click on a number to return a call. That click could direct you to a link that installs some kind of malware. You can write down the phone number and initiate a phone call – much in the same way you can open a browser and go to a website instead of clicking on a suspicious link. In a related matter, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is about to force telephone carriers to verify the phone number location of incoming calls. This should reduce – at least for now – phone number spoofing.
Also, be vigilant about looking for anything that looks like a change in your operations or the entities you deal with. Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call somebody to verify instructions.
We can help you fight fraud and mitigate security issues in a number of ways, including security assessments and developing and installing rules and policies for critical operations. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for an appointment.