How to Protect Your Organization against Business Email Compromise (BEC) Attacks

Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks are a rising concern for organizations. Because they rely on sophisticated phishing, social engineering and impersonation techniques, they often bypass traditional email filters and standard security solutions. Learn about the implications of BEC attacks and the best prevention and defense strategies for your company.

By Diana
5 min read

Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks can be devastating for a company, and they’re becoming increasingly common with every passing year. Cybercriminals are frustratingly quick learners, and they’re always coming up with dastardly new ways to make their attacks more difficult to detect and stop.

The term BEC refers to any cybercrime that uses fraudulent emails to target an organization. While the malicious practice has existed for years, it’s recently become an even bigger threat for companies in the United States and around the world. The FBI received 19,369 complaints in 2020 alone, with the total losses adding up to more than $1.8 billion. With cybercriminals always updating their tactics, you can expect the threat to grow in the months and years ahead.

Without the proper protection, your organization will remain vulnerable to digital fraud. Some attackers extract money from their victims, while others pursue sensitive data. Whatever the criminals’ motives, your company has a lot at stake.

How BEC Attacks Work

The FBI recognizes five different categories of BEC crimes. While each category involves different tactics and distinct objectives, they share a reliance on trickery.

In CEO fraud, criminals pretend to be the chief executive of a company in order to extract funds or information. The psychology behind these maneuvers is simple. Employees are inclined to trust the biggest boss at the company, and they sometimes obey the request for money or data before stopping to question the legitimacy of the message. Individuals in the finance department are especially likely to encounter these types of schemes, and they should be prepared to identify suspicious correspondence.

In account compromise attacks, criminals manage to hack an employee’s email account. From there, the attackers can use the hacked account to request money from outside vendors. This money is then sent to an outside bank account of the hackers’ choosing. Avoiding these incidents requires airtight cybersecurity measures throughout an organization.

With false invoice schemes, a criminal impersonates a supplier and asks for money from an organization. These scams are often surprisingly sophisticated, with attackers going to great lengths to duplicate the style and substance of a typical invoice. The criminals usually do their research, and fraudulent requests are likely to match standard payments from the past.

In attorney impersonation scams, criminals pretend to be a lawyer who’s working with an organization. The supposed lawyer may ask for money or data, and lower-level employees are often the targets. Scared by the apparent authority of the sender, recipients sometimes fulfill the request before double-checking the message’s authenticity.

With data theft, an attacker infiltrates an organization’s system to steal key information. In many cases, the criminals extract personal data relating to a company’s top executives. They can then use this information to commit CEO fraud within the company.

Each of these categories requires breaking through the barriers to a company’s internal systems or tricking an unwitting employee. Unfortunately, cybercriminals are constantly improving their methods for pulling off these types of attacks. Today’s fraudulent messages are often shockingly realistic, with all sorts of legitimate information included. Personalization, detailed specifications, and time sensitivity all make the scams seem more genuine. To protect your enterprise from these clever schemes, you’ve got to take a strong stance on cybersecurity.

How to Prevent a BEC Attack

The only way to keep today’s cybercriminals at bay is by adopting a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy. Both human and tech-related elements should factor into your anti-fraud approach. The people within your organization have to understand the types of digital assaults they’re likely to face, and advanced machine learning systems are necessary to help identify potential threats. If you employ one of these techniques without the other, you’ll leave your company vulnerable to fraud and infiltration.

Human and technological resources should complement each other within your overall anti-fraud strategy. Well-trained employees will know how to properly employ cybersecurity programs, and the technology will help everyone at the company navigate the treacherous waters of the digital age. With both of these techniques operating simultaneously, you should be able to stymie most cybercriminals and provide protection for your business.

Educate and Train Users

Email might be a great platform for optimizing communication in the modern world, but it also gives cybercriminals a major weakness to exploit. With employees receiving dozens of electronic messages a day, it’s difficult to maintain an impenetrable wall against bad actors and malicious programs. A single slip-up is enough to spell doom, and clever criminals are always developing devious new methods for duping employees.

Many costly attacks stem from simple user errors. Today’s workers are often busy, and many don’t have the time to consider each message or attachment they receive before opening it. When an individual doesn’t know the red flags they should be looking for, they’re liable to get duped by an unscrupulous actor.

Employee training is an excellent way to keep everyone at your company informed about the latest cybersecurity trends. While it’s important to teach all new employees how to keep their accounts secure, it’s just as vital to run subsequent sessions that keep everyone up to date on the criminals’ evolving methods. The world of cybercrime is in constant flux, and last year’s insights might be hopelessly outdated today. By investing in regular training, you’ll give your employees the tools they need to identify threats and avoid disastrous outcomes.

Invest In Machine-Intelligent Email Security Solutions

Machine learning, a branch of artificial intelligence, should be a major part of every company’s cybersecurity strategy. Recent advances in machine intelligence have given organizations a new weapon in the fight against digital crime. While even the best systems won’t identify or thwart every cyberattack, they can temper the onslaught of fraudulent messages and reduce the threat of significant losses.

Machine-learning systems operate by analyzing every message sent within a company’s network and comparing it with typical patterns of behavior. By observing and documenting every interaction among your business’s employees, the program will come to understand who typically emails who and under what circumstances. Whenever a message falls outside the parameters of typical interactions, the system will flag it as a potential threat. This constant, automatic monitoring allows you to catch suspicious activity that human eyes might not have noticed.

Imagine, for example, that Alice in the finance department receives a message that purports to be from the CEO. A machine-learning program will immediately check whether the CEO habitually contacts Alice in that manner and at that time of the week. If Alice and the CEO have rarely or never communicated before, the system will flag the email as suspicious. This will prevent Alice from being fooled and fulfilling the supposed CEO’s request without looking further into the issue.

Machine-learning programs can protect against a variety of malicious online behavior. Not only is fraud often flagged as described above, but attempted account takeovers can also be thwarted. By providing such comprehensive protection against all sorts of cyberattacks, artificial intelligence can play a major role in safeguarding your computer systems.


Today’s email-based assaults come in various shapes and sizes. Some criminals pretend to be the CEO of a company or a lawyer who needs special information. Others mimic the invoices that come from real suppliers. Your company can expect to face all these threats in the months and years ahead, and you’ll only stave off disaster if you take a proactive approach to cybersecurity.

Humans and machines can work together to fend off digital attackers. Awareness programs teach employees to identify potential threats, and machine-learning programs identify suspicious messages before they can wreak havoc. To effectively fortify your company’s defenses, you’ll have to use both of these strategies simultaneously.

Being targeted by cyberattacks is inevitable, but succumbing to them is not. There’s no reason to accept regular crime-related losses as the cost of doing business. With a tough mentality and a comprehensive approach, you can successfully mitigate the BEC threat. To do anything less is to give up without a fight.

To learn about how xorlab can protect your organization against BEC attacks, request a demo today.