Thought leadership. Threat analysis. Cybersecurity news and alerts.
Why Nonprofits Are Easy Targets for Phishing Attacks
Cybersecurity was once low on the list of priorities of nonprofit organizations. Times are, however, changing. In recent years, nonprofit organizations have become an easy target for phishing attacks.
In a 2018 study that was drawn from a data set of more than 6 million users, KnowBe4found that nonprofit organizations have the highest percentage of “phish-prone” employees in large organizations (1,000 or more employees) category. The phish-prone percentage is determined by KnowBe4 by the number of employees that open a malicious attachment or click a malicious link in a simulated phishing email.
What Is Phishing Attack?
Phishing attack is a type of cyberattack that uses a fraudulent email as a weapon. An email used for a phishing attack appears to come from a reputable source. This email, however, is a fraudulent one.
A phishing email comes with a malicious attachment or malicious link. When the malicious attachment in a phishing email is downloaded, it installs a malicious software (malware) into the email receiver’s computer. In case the malicious link in a phishing email is clicked, this leads the email receiver to a fake website coaxing the receiver to reveal confidential information or this scam site could be used to download malware into the victim’s computer.
Why Nonprofit Organizations Are Targeted?
Nonprofit organizations are repositories of critical data, including benefactors’ names, addresses and credit card details, as well as critical data of clients and proprietary information as in the case of nonprofit research organizations.
Aside from donations from individuals, nonprofits are entrusted by governments with significant financial and social responsibilities. In some local governments, some of the top contractors are nonprofits with contracts worth millions.
Holding said critical information and funds make nonprofit organizations attractive to cybercriminals.
While nonprofit organizations face the same security risks as for-profit organizations, nonprofits generally lag behind for-profit organizations in terms of implementing policies and practices necessary in securing their IT systems. Cybercriminals have come to realize that nonprofits lack the resources in implementing cybersecurity best practices, making them easy targets for phishing attacks.
How Phishing Attacks Impact Nonprofits?
Here are two ways by which phishing attacks impact nonprofit organizations:
1. Ransomware Attacks
Ransomware is a type of malware that denies victims access to their computer files until a ransom is paid. Ransomware is often spread through phishing emails.
In March 2016, four computers at the Ottawa Hospital, a nonprofit, public university teaching hospital, were infected with the ransomware called “WinPlock”. Kate Eggins, the institution’s director of media relations, told IT World Canadathat four staff at the institution each clicked a phishing email which resulted in the installation of the WinPlock ransomware.
According to Microsoft, WinPlock ransomware encrypts files, denying users access to their files. After encrypting the computer files, this ransomware displays a ransom note that asks for one Bitcoin as ransom payment.
2. Business Email Compromise (BEC) Attacks
Business Email Compromise (BEC), also known as CEO fraud, is a form of a phishing attack where an attacker impersonates an executive of an organization, oftentimes the CEO, thus the name CEO fraud, and attempts to trick an employee authorized to make payments into paying a fake invoice or making an unauthorized money transfer from the organization’s bank account to the fraudster’s bank account.
Nonprofit organization Save the Childrenin its 2017 tax report revealed that in April 2017, an unknown cyber attacker or attackers impersonating as an employee of the institution tricked the institution into transferring money worth $997,400 to a fraudulent organization in Japan on the belief that the money would be used to purchase solar panels for health centers in Pakistan.
Save the Children said that by the time the scam was found out in May 2017, the transferred funds could no longer be recovered. Save the Children told the Boston Globethat the attackers deceived the institution into transferring nearly $1 million to a fraudulent organization in Japan by breaking into an email account of an employee of the institution and by creating false invoices and other documents.
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)reported that between the period of October 2013 to May 2016, BEC attackers pocketed nearly USD $3.1 billion from 22,143 victims worldwide. The FBI said that in addition to compromising legitimate emails, attackers carry out BEC attacks by using spoofed emails – those that closely mimic legitimate emails, for instance, using the spoofed email abc-company.com based on a
legitimate email of abc_company.com.
How Can Non-profits Prevent Phishing Attacks?
Here are some cybersecurity measures in order to protect your organization from phishing attacks:
And Finally, Alert Your Staff About Phishing Attacks
Phishing scammers are constantly changing their tactics. During your organization’s regular cybersecurity training, include tips on how to spot the latest phishing schemes.
For instance, one typical characteristic of a phishing email is it gives an urgent vibe, pressuring the email receiver via the email subject to act now or something negative will happen.
When you need help with raising awareness and protecting your digital assets, speak with one of our cybersecurity and IT risk experts. Contact ustoday and subscribe to the newsletterto receive cybersecurity tips and important alerts.
Steve E. Driz, I.S.P., ITCP