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Forget email: Scammers use CEO voice ‘deepfakes’ to con workers into wiring cash

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FBI: BEC scams cost $1.3 billion to US firms
Ransomware complaints are on the decline, but losses are higher than ever.

Criminals are using AI-generated audio to impersonate a CEO’s voice and con subordinates into transferring funds to a scammer’s account. 

So-called deepfake voice attacks could be the next frontier in a scam that’s cost US businesses almost $2bn over the past two years using fraudulent email. 

The Wall Street Journal reports that the CEO of an unnamed UK-based energy company thought he was talking on the phone with his boss, the CEO of the German parent company, who’d asked him to urgently transfer €220,000 ($243,000) to a Hungarian supplier. 

However, the UK CEO was in fact taking instructions from a scammer who’d used AI-powered voice technology to impersonate the German CEO. It’s the voice equivalent of deepfake videos that are causing alarm for their potential to manipulate public opinion and cause social discord.  

The voice fraud incident was described to the WSJ by the energy company’s insurer, Euler Hermes Group. 

The insurer believes the scammer had used commercially available AI voice-generating software to carry out the fraud. 

The UK-based CEO became suspicious when the fraudster called a third time requesting a second transfer and noticed the call was from an Austrian number. He didn’t make any further transfers. However, the original transfer went to a Hungarian account under the scammers’ control and was then transferred to Mexico. 

It’s not the first known case of deepfaked audio of CEO voices being used to trick financial controllers into transferring funds to fraudsters. 

The BBC reported in July that Symantec had seen three similar cases where AI software had been used to spoof CEO voices. Victims lost millions of dollars in those cases.  

CEOs could be an easier target for AI-generated voice fraud because their voices are often contained in earnings calls, media appearances, YouTube videos, and conferences, offering scammers plenty of data to build a model of someone’s voice. 

The scam bears the hallmarks of an older fraud that’s already caused massive losses in the US. That is, business email compromise, which cost US businesses $1.3bn in 2018 alone.

While BEC crime involves manipulating people through fraudulent email, the basic scam and goal are the same, albeit via a different medium. 

It involves spoofing or compromising a senior officer’s email account and emailing instructions for a financial controller to urgently transfer funds to an account controlled by the scammer. 

Insurance giant AIG (American International Group) recently reported that BEC-related issuance filings from the EMEA region accounted for 23% of all cyber-insurance claims it received in 2018. It was followed by ransomware, which accounted for 18% of these claims. 

More on deepfakes, business computer fraud 



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The Five Pillars of (Azure) Cloud-based Application Security

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This 1-hour webinar from GigaOm brings together experts in Azure cloud application migration and security, featuring GigaOm analyst Jon Collins and special guests from Fortinet, Director of Product Marketing for Public Cloud, Daniel Schrader, and Global Director of Public Cloud Architecture and Engineering, Aidan Walden.

These interesting times have accelerated the drive towards digital transformation, application rationalization, and migration to cloud-based architectures. Enterprise organizations are looking to increase efficiency, but without impacting performance or increasing risk, either from infrastructure resilience or end-user behaviors.

Success requires a combination of best practice and appropriate use of technology, depending on where the organization is on its cloud journey. Elements such as zero-trust access and security-driven networking need to be deployed in parallel with security-first operations, breach prevention and response.

If you are looking to migrate applications to the cloud and want to be sure your approach maximizes delivery whilst minimizing risk, this webinar is for you.

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Data Management and Secure Data Storage for the Enterprise

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This free 1-hour webinar from GigaOm Research brings together experts in data management and security, featuring GigaOm Analyst Enrico Signoretti and special guest from RackTop Systems, Jonathan Halstuch. The discussion will focus on data storage and how to protect data against cyberattacks.

Most of the recent news coverage and analysis of cyberattacks focus on hackers getting access and control of critical systems. Yet rarely is it mentioned that the most valuable asset for the organizations under attack is the data contained in these systems.

In this webinar, you will learn about the risks and costs of a poor data security management approach, and how to improve your data storage to prevent and mitigate the consequences of a compromised infrastructure.

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CISO Podcast: Talking Anti-Phishing Solutions

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Simon Gibson earlier this year published the report, “GigaOm Radar for Phishing Prevention and Detection,” which assessed more than a dozen security solutions focused on detecting and mitigating email-borne threats and vulnerabilities. As Gibson noted in his report, email remains a prime vector for attack, reflecting the strategic role it plays in corporate communications.

Earlier this week, Gibson’s report was a featured topic of discussions on David Spark’s popular CISO Security Vendor Relationship Podcast. In it, Spark interviewed a pair of chief information security officers—Mike Johnson, CISO for SalesForce, and James Dolph, CISO for Guidewire Software—to get their take on the role of anti-phishing solutions.

“I want to first give GigaOm some credit here for really pointing out the need to decide what to do with detections,” Johnson said when asked for his thoughts about selecting an anti-phishing tool. “I think a lot of companies charge into a solution for anti-phishing without thinking about what they are going to do when the thing triggers.”

As Johnson noted, the needs and vulnerabilities of a large organization aligned on Microsoft 365 are very different from those of a smaller outfit working with GSuite. A malicious Excel macro-laden file, for example, poses a credible threat to a Microsoft shop and therefore argues for a detonation solution to detect and neutralize malicious payloads before they can spread and morph. On the other hand, a smaller company is more exposed to business email compromise (BEC) attacks, since spending authority is often spread among many employees in these businesses.

Gibson’s radar report describes both in-line and out-of-band solutions, but Johnson said cloud-aligned infrastructures argue against traditional in-line schemes.

“If you put an in-line solution in front of [Microsoft] 365 or in front of GSuite, you are likely decreasing your reliability, because you’ve now introduced this single point of failure. Google and Microsoft have this massive amount of reliability that is built in,” Johnson said.

So how should IT decision makers go about selecting an anti-phishing solution? Dolph answered that question with a series of questions of his own:

“Does it nail the basics? Does it fit with the technologies we have in place? And then secondarily, is it reliable, is it tunable, is it manageable?” he asked. “Because it can add a lot overhead, especially if you have a small team if these tools are really disruptive to the email flow.”

Dolph concluded by noting that it’s important for solutions to provide insight that can help organizations target their protections, as well as support both training and awareness around threats. Finally, he urged organizations to consider how they can measure the effectiveness of solutions.

“I may look at other solutions in the future and how do I compare those solutions to the benchmark of what we have in place?”

Listen to the Podcast: CISO Podcast

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