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What is an impersonation attack?

What is an impersonation attack?

Impersonation attacks are targeted phishing attempts that involve impersonating individuals or entities through social engineering. The aim is to trick employees into sharing confidential data and transferring funds or login credentials, enabling cybercriminals to carry out unauthorized activities.


Types of impersonation attacks

Impersonation attacks can manifest in various forms, each with its own unique characteristics and methods of execution. Familiarizing yourself and your employees with the most common impersonation attacks can enhance your organization's resilience against these threats.


Email impersonation attacks

Cybercriminals often masquerade as coworkers, managers, or high-ranking executives using fake or stolen email accounts. Unlike mass email phishing attacks that typically end up in spam folders, these spear phishing attacks are highly targeted and sophisticated.

Read also: What is a phishing attack? 


Cousin domain impersonation

Cousin domain impersonation attacks involve the creation of false company websites or emails that closely resemble official organization channels. Attackers manipulate domain codes to create deceptive emails or websites that mimic legitimate ones. Utilizing incorrect domain codes, deceives recipients into believing that the communication is genuine.


Forged header impersonation

Forged header, envelope impersonation, or email spoofing, involves using fake headers or sender addresses to make an email appear legitimate. Cybercriminals modify the "sender" field in an email header or envelope, changing the "From:" or "Return-Path:" title fields to mimic a trusted source.


Account takeover

Account takeover attacks, also called compromised email account attacks, involve cybercriminals gaining unauthorized access to an individual's account using stolen credentials. These credentials are often acquired through data breaches, data leaks, or brute-force attacks.

Once the attacker successfully logs into the compromised account, they can carry out various malicious activities, including sending phishing emails to contacts within the compromised email list. This makes it challenging for victims to detect the impersonation attempts.


Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) Attack

Man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks involve cybercriminals intercepting communications between individuals, applications, or services. Exploiting vulnerabilities in HTTPS connections, SSL/TLS connections, or unsafe Wi-Fi networks intercepts and modifies messages, potentially gaining access to sensitive information.

Read more: What is a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack? 


Smishing and Vishing

Smishing, or SMS phishing, involves phishing attacks through SMS text messages. Attackers send text messages containing malicious links that can infect a target's mobile device with viruses, spyware, or adware. These messages may also impersonate personal or professional contacts, misleading victims into believing the text's legitimacy.

Vishing, or voice phishing, occurs during phone calls when attackers impersonate important parties, such as government agencies or businesses. They may personally make the phone call or use automated systems to conduct fraudulent calls. To protect yourself, it is best to ignore unknown numbers and refrain from agreeing to any requests over the phone.

Related: What is vishing? 


How to stay protected against impersonation attacks

It is important to focus on early detection and cybersecurity education to safeguard your organization from impersonation attacks and phishing scams. 


Security awareness training

Organizations should conduct regular training and education programs to inform employees about various cyber threats, including impersonation attacks. Security awareness training should also cover best security practices, such as creating secure passwords, recognizing scam attempts, and browsing the internet safely.


Using custom email domains

Consider creating custom email domains for your business instead of relying on common email service providers like Gmail or Yahoo. Custom domains provide more oversight and control over email data, allowing for better management of user permissions. 


Implementing email security solutions 

Deploying email security tools, such as anti-malware and anti-spam software, can help protect employees from fraudulent emails. These tools can block potentially dangerous emails, links, and attachments, preventing users from inadvertently exposing themselves to risks. 


AI-driven and automated software

Many organizations leverage automated software and proactive threat intelligence to scan emails and detect potential impersonation attacks before they reach users' inboxes. These solutions cross-reference email contents with registered phishing scripts to identify suspicious activities.


Reporting impersonation attacks

Encourage all employees to report impersonation attacks to the IT department if they suspect they or their colleagues have been targeted. Establish clear reporting protocols and define immediate action steps to identify and promptly eliminate potential impersonation attack risks. 

See also: HIPAA Compliant Email: The Definitive Guide 

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