Why You Should Be Worried About Whaling

Published on 3 July 2024

Whaling is a more advanced version of phishing. It is a strategized targeted email attack aimed at senior executives. The desired effect is to impersonate a CEO or senior member of staff via email to get another member of staff to carry out an action; this could be something like making a payment. Cybercriminals will do this by using social engineering and business language to convince the recipient to hand over sensitive information or for financial gain.

The results of this can be detrimental to your business. As well as financial and data loss, it could damage your company’s reputation.

In both phishing and whaling, cybercriminals will use emails to target their victims. However, whaling has a much higher ‘pay-off’ for cybercriminals, meaning they will spend more time making the emails look authentic.

padlock and computer images

The Rise of Whaling Attacks

Whaling attacks, an enhanced form of phishing targeting high-level executives and senior employees, have surged in recent years. This trend is driven by the increasing value of the sensitive information these individuals have access to, as well as the potential financial gains cybercriminals can achieve by successfully compromising them.

According to a report, there was a 150% increase in whaling campaigns between 2019 and 2022. This sharp rise can be attributed to several factors. 

Increased Value of Sensitive Data

Executives and senior-level employees often have access to a wealth of sensitive information, including financial records, trade secrets, and confidential business strategies. For cybercriminals, gaining access to this data can be extremely lucrative, as it can be used for financial fraud and other malicious activities.

Remote Work Vulnerabilities

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant increase in remote work, creating new vulnerabilities that cybercriminals have been quick to exploit. As employees access sensitive information from home networks and personal devices, the attack surface for whaling attacks has expanded.

Sophisticated Social Engineering Tactics

Whaling attacks often involve highly personalised and convincing social engineering tactics, such as impersonating trusted colleagues or leveraging information gathered from social media. This makes it increasingly difficult for even savvy executives to detect and prevent these attacks.

Consequences of Whaling

One of the primary consequences of a successful whaling attack is financial loss. Cybercriminals often impersonate trusted individuals, such as the CEO or CFO, to trick employees into authorising fraudulent wire transfers or divulging sensitive financial information. These fraudulent transactions can result in the loss of thousands or even millions of pounds, severely impacting the organisation’s bottom line.

Moreover, the reputational damage caused by a whaling attack can be equally devastating. When sensitive information is compromised or the organisation is publicly identified as a victim, it can lead to a significant loss of trust from customers, partners, and stakeholders. This erosion of trust can have long-lasting effects, potentially hindering the organisation’s ability to maintain its competitive edge and secure future business opportunities.

Finally, whaling attacks can also expose the organisation to potential legal and regulatory implications. Data breaches resulting from these attacks may lead to compliance violations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), resulting in hefty fines and further reputational damage.

To mitigate these risks, organisations must prioritise robust cybersecurity measures, comprehensive employee training, and a proactive approach to incident response. By taking these steps, they can better protect themselves against the devastating consequences of whaling attacks.

How to protect yourself and your business from a Whaling Attack

Education

One of the key reasons why phishing, spear-phishing, and whaling are a popular choice among cybercriminals is because they rely on human error. Rather than finding a hole in your cybersecurity software (which can be difficult and time-consuming), cybercriminals can wait for one member of staff to make a small error.

Educating your staff and running training exercises is a great way to keep your staff vigilant. It is a good idea to encourage your staff to maintain a healthy level of suspicion when they are looking at and engaging with emails.

Multistep verification

Consider a multi-step verification process when it comes to transferring large amounts of data or funds. This could be by requiring a phone call or face-to-face confirmation before transferring or needing more than one person to approve the transfer. The latter option also allows for one of your staff to have someone to bounce suspicions off of and alleviates sole responsibility.

Anti-phishing tools

You can enable and deploy specialist anti-phishing software. This will screen any URLs or links before you receive an email. Bluebell IT Solutions can assist you in finding and implementing the right anti-phishing software for your business.

Social media education

Ensure that you and any other senior members of staff are aware of what they post publicly on social media. Cybercriminals will use any publicly available material to convince the victim the email is genuine. For example, if a director has posted about their company’s recent Christmas party, a cybercriminal could mention this within the email to eliminate suspicion.

Whaling Emails coming out of computer

Protect Your Business from Whaling with Bluebell

It can be tricky to spot a phishing email and with whaling emails, it can be even trickier. The key is to keep your staff educated. By enabling multifactor authentication, you can prevent large amounts of data or funds from being transferred incorrectly. The addition of anti-phishing software adds another layer of protection to all your staff’s emails. If you are interested in learning more about whaling and how to set up parameters to best defend yourself book a meeting with us below or call us on 01908 044202.

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