CyberLabs #8 – What Are the Risks of Business Email Compromise?

Michał Błaszczak, 30 January 2024


One of the most dire situations a business can face is unauthorized access to its company network. This breach can lead to the theft of valuable intellectual property and customer data, which might then be sold on darknet marketplaces.

This situation is often exacerbated by ransomware, a form of malicious software that encrypts as much of the business network as possible. It then demands ransom in exchange for decrypting the data, essentially holding our information hostage. Additionally, we must reckon with various penalties related to the breach of personal data, not to mention the significant erosion of trust from our customers.

In scenarios like these, having a comprehensive strategy, like a Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP) or a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) component proves invaluable. These plans are instrumental in restoring systems to a functional state.

But what missteps must occur for a criminal to successfully carry out their attack? The answers to this question and more will be explored in this article.

How Hackers Begin an Attack – Reconnaissance

Every attack begins with the reconnaissance phase, which involves gathering information about the target. The reconnaissance phase itself is divided into two methods. 

  • The first method is the passive approach, which does not require any direct intervention or leaving traces of one’s presence. It relies largely on searching for publicly available information on the internet.
  • The second method is the active approach, where various tools or methods are used to interact with different systems on the client’s side.

A well-executed reconnaissance allows the attacker to gather a wealth of information about the software/technology used in the company (perhaps from job postings), and it also helps identify many systems accessible from the internet (which may be long-forgotten by companies but pose a real threat).

The amount of information we “leak” to criminals during reconnaissance largely depends on us. We live in a time where practically anyone can find a lot of information about us on social media platforms, which could be useful in subsequent stages of an attack.

Social Media Data Collection

In business environments, LinkedIn is an extremely popular social media platform. Attackers can use it to gather information about a company’s employees, technologies, and other critical details.

Let’s assume the attacker’s target is a specific company.

The first thing a cybercriminal might do is visit the company’s profile on the mentioned platform. At this point, they gain information about the employees. In addition, they obtain the company’s website address from the profile, where they can surely find email addresses, such as those for Customer Support.

Furthermore, from the company’s profile, job listings can be explored, revealing details about technologies used by the company, including specific versions—information that is particularly valuable, especially for positions related to IT.


Even if you don’t have an account on LinkedIn or don’t follow a specific company, you can still find out who works at a specific location.

Hackers preparing for an attack will certainly use such information. After reviewing a company’s profile, the attacker may begin to look through the employees’ profiles, where they can find no less information. 

It’s worth adding that more information can be extracted by adding someone to your network on LinkedIn (usually, people accept new connections without much thought, just to expand their reach). Having such a person in our social network, we can visit their profile to obtain information from the “Contact Info” tab about:

  • Email address (either corporate or personal) – this could be the address to which a phishing message is sent. Also, having a “template” of one email address, we can create likely addresses of other employees,
  • Date of birth – perhaps this information will be useful in attempting to reset a password or creating a personalized password list to be used in “cracking the password” in further steps of the attack,
  • Phone number – the number could be used for a Vishing (Voice Phishing) attack or a Smishing (SMS Phishing) attack,
  • Web addresses – these could be URLs to private websites or, for example, addresses of corporate repositories with SDKs (by analyzing such repositories, one can find various secrets, passwords, etc.).

Sometimes in the “Experience” section, we might find information about the exact duties within the company, for example, what software we work with. This and other information will certainly facilitate the attacker in preparing the attack or selecting specific targets.

Many users describe their experience with a particular company in more detail, unaware they may be providing information to cybercriminals.

Why Is Phishing Still the Main Method to Get Into a Company?

Phishing has become a common occurrence nowadays, and we’ve even discussed it as part of the CyberLabs series.

CyberLabs #1 – Phishing being one of the most popular cyber threats

The fact that phishing is one of the most frequently chosen and effective methods for attackers to gain access to a company’s internal network does not surprise anyone.

Personally, I believe that well-prepared phishing is challenging to detect, especially by less experienced users (for methods related to analyzing and detecting malicious messages, I refer you to the latest CyberLabs article). 

Certainly, the primary goal of the message is to prompt us to either click on a specified link to trick us into providing our login credentials (for example, to our email account) or to download and install malicious software. The latter would grant the attacker access to our computer and, consequently, the corporate network.

As we read a few months ago, Twilio reported a phishing attack a phishing attack where employees received SMS messages purportedly from the IT department. The messages claimed that their passwords had expired, and as a result, they needed to log in at a specified URL to change their passwords (of course, the URL was controlled by the attacker).



Another attack, this time utilizing vishing and spammy push notifications, affected Cisco a few months ago. There are many more similar cases; as you can see, they also affect large companies.

Leaks – the Second Popular Method of Attack

We hear about data breaches as frequently as we do about phishing attacks. Virtually, there is no person in the world whose password hasn’t leaked from some service.

Leaks occur due to various vulnerabilities in web applications, whether through old publicly accessible systems that everyone has long forgotten or through breaches resulting from, for example, the launch of malicious software after infiltrating a particular organization.

Many leaks are publicly available, and practically anyone can access such databases without a problem. If such a database was stolen from a social network or some online store, there is a good chance that a criminal could find many accounts set up with company email addresses. 

If such an account uses a simple password, and to make matters worse, the account owner uses the same password across many other corporate systems (perhaps including email accounts) and does not have two-factor authentication (2FA), it doesn’t take much for a criminal to take control of such accounts.

Someone might argue that searching and sifting through massive databases is very time-consuming. I would agree with that, assuming someone is manually searching for and downloading such databases. However, there are specialized search engines that allow checking whether a particular email address or phone number has been part of a data breach.

An example of such a site would be Another example might be, which provides information about leaked passwords or their hashes. Additionally, depending on the breach, the website may display information such as IP addresses, physical addresses, and other details that users may have provided on various platforms.



It is worth remembering that by having 2FA and using a simple password (of course, I don’t encourage this; information on password security was covered in CyberLabs #2 ), we are more resistant to attempts to log into our systems using just that password. The 2FA, especially the hardware key, is also a good “tool” to protect against network security attacks.

Dwuskładnikowe uwierzytelnienie (2FA) jest dodatkowym zabezpieczeniem wykorzystywanym podczas procesu logowania do danego konta. Podczas logowania w dalszym ciągu wymagane jest podanie loginu oraz hasła, jednak dodatkowo na koncie z uruchomionym 2FA należy będzie podać dodatkowy "składnik" np. kod z odpowiedniej aplikacji.

Third Method – Drive-by Download Attack

The third popular method of attack is a drive-by download. In the case of APT (Advanced Persistent Threat) groups that leverage zero-days, this attack can lead to the automatic download and execution of malicious software immediately after clicking a link (although such attacks are not very common). 

However, there is a drive-by download technique that requires minimal user interaction. This is referred to as SocGholish, a malicious campaign that exploits vulnerable websites to embed malicious code. This code generates a pop-up message informing the user that they have an outdated browser version and need to update it to view the page.

A .zip file containing the suspicious code inside is downloaded. Of course, after running the software, our computer is infected…


Breach of Email Account

Regardless of how cybercriminals manage to compromise our email accounts, whether through phishing or using leaked passwords, they gain access to many confidential pieces of information. Once inside such an email account, attackers may focus on searching through emails for specific information such as:

  • Messages containing passwords or other access credentials, such as API keys and configuration files,
  • Messages revealing information about network infrastructure, such as internal system addresses,
  • Messages containing information about clients, payments, and other sensitive data.

Collecting information is not the only thing a criminal can do. Very often, compromised email accounts can be used to send messages with malicious software, aiming to gain access to as many machines as possible. The gathered information can contribute to the compromise of additional systems by the cybercriminal.

The infiltration of an attacker into a company’s network is one of the worst situations that can happen to us. A skilled and experienced hacker using various techniques can quickly access more computers in the corporate network. 

Typically, the initial goal is to gain the highest possible privileges within the company’s network, making it easier to infect the entire network with ransomware or other malicious software later.

To execute this plan, attackers may exploit vulnerabilities in the software we use or, through request poisoning, impersonate various genuine network resources. This allows them to intercept credentials when attempting to log in to one of these resources.

Indeed, these are often advanced attacks that may not be easily detected without proper security systems analyzing and monitoring our network. It’s crucial to ensure that our corporate networks have adequate security systems in place.

For some companies, implementing such systems for networks may be associated with purchasing often expensive licenses. It’s worth noting that many systems are open-source, and we can successfully use them in our networks.

Implementing such systems should be a priority because they help to quickly identify many external and internal threats, thereby avoiding penalties, ransom payments, and other potential consequences.

Maximize your email deliverability and security with EmailLabs!

What Is Data Exfiltration?

After gaining the highest possible privileges and taking over the attacker’s essential machines comes when the attacker starts exfiltrating or simply stealing data. There are numerous methods for data exfiltration, just as there are many methods a cybercriminal can use for an attack. Below are a few popular methods:

  • Exfiltration using the DNS service,
  • Exfiltration via ICMP, including the popular ping method,
  • Exfiltration using HTTP requests,
  • Exfiltration using SSH, FTP, SMTP services.

Regardless of the method of data theft, we need proper monitoring to catch such practices in time. So, it is essential to be aware of the threats and know how to prevent and respond to them.

What Is Ransomware?

A large number of attacks culminate in the deployment of ransomware, which encrypts all our data that was previously stolen. If we do not pay the ransom, our data may be made public, leading to severe consequences.



source: Google Trends

However, before this software encrypts all computers and servers, the attackers aim to acquire the highest privileges, as mentioned earlier. Gaining elevated privileges may trigger alarms in security systems; however, despite that, criminals strive to, for example, launch malicious software from the domain controller to encrypt all data.

In recent weeks, there has been an observed increase in ransomware attacks in Poland. This upward trend is also seen globally, so it’s important to keep in mind healthy cybersecurity practices and principles.

Stay Secure!

Good Advice

  • It’s important not to give all possible information about ourselves on social networks. This data can later be used in attacks.
  • One of the most common practices used by criminals is phishing. If you haven’t read the last article in the CyberLabs series, I encourage you to read it. You will find information on recognizing malicious messages, links, or malware files there.
  • Another important thing is to check our email passwords for leaks regularly. For this, we can use the sites haveibeenpwned or dehashed. These sites can also inform us of further leaks containing our data.
  • Let’s follow the principle of one password, one system. In addition, the password should be strong enough.
  • Let’s not store access data to different systems on mailboxes. We can use, for example, password managers to store such data.
  • Additionally, remember to use 2FA (Two-Factor Authentication). It’s an extra layer of security that can protect us from unauthorized access.
  • Also important is that if we send sensitive correspondence via email, let’s use PGP encryption, which can help if someone gains unauthorized access to our mailboxes.
  • The data we store on our drives should also be encrypted. If you want to encrypt specific files (for example, because of their confidentiality), you can also use PGP.
  • Most attacks inside a network are hard to catch without proper security systems. So, if you don’t have such systems, it’s worth considering implementing them. Some are open-source, meaning you can use them for free.

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