Protecting Your Business from Email Compromise: A Closer Look at BEC and Phishing

an underwater scene to represent email phishing.

In today’s fast-paced digital environment, ensuring the security of your business communications has become more crucial than ever. Business Email Compromise, or BEC, is emerging as a dominant threat in this landscape. And often, BEC attacks employ phishing techniques, a deceptive strategy where cybercriminals aim to deceive individuals into disclosing their confidential data.

In this article, we will delve into the critical aspects of BEC, while also shedding light on how phishing plays a role in its execution.

What is Business Email Compromise (BEC)?

Business Email Compromise (BEC) is a sophisticated type of cyber threat where criminals specifically target employee’s email accounts within an organisation. The primary aim of these attacks is to gain unauthorised access to a legitimate email account. Once they achieve this, they misuse the account for fraudulent purposes, often leading to significant financial losses for the company.

According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, business email compromise scams rank as one of the costliest types of cyber fraud.

It’s crucial to differentiate between business email compromise vs phishing, although both involve deceptive tactics. In BEC, the emphasis is on impersonating or commandeering a specific business email, making the deceit more targeted and, often, more believable.

How BEC Happens

Account Infiltration

Usually, the initial step in a business email compromise attack involves breaking into an employee’s email account. Criminals employ various business email compromise tools and techniques to achieve this.

Once an account is compromised, it is effectively owned and controlled by the attacker, which opens doors to a range of potential future attacks.

The infiltration could be the result of data theft from a previous breach, or it might involve more direct methods like manipulating the employee into revealing their login credentials.

Misrepresentation & Fraudulent Requests

After gaining access to a legitimate email account, the criminal then impersonates the business. They may craft emails that look genuine, using the same language, tone, and style the business typically uses. This misrepresentation is a key element in BEC scams because it makes fraudulent requests appear legitimate.

For instance, the attacker might send out emails to suppliers requesting fund transfers, or they might use a false invoice scheme to request invoice payments. Alternatively, an attacker, posing as a high-ranking company official, may use the commandeered email address to direct a finance department to transfer money to fraudulent bank accounts.

Why BEC Often Utilises Phishing

Business Email Compromise and phishing are both insidious methods that cyber criminals employ to trick individuals and businesses. But why is it that BEC frequently leans on phishing techniques?

Phishing, while a broader threat, is a common method for initiating BEC

Phishing is a prevalent and underhanded cyber threat. While it broadly focuses on tricking individuals into revealing sensitive information, phishing is frequently a starting point for more specific and targeted threats like BEC. The reason BEC attackers often employ phishing is due to its effectiveness in giving unauthorised access to email accounts, leading to potential financial scams, such as sending money to fraudulent accounts.

Phishing in Brief

The main objective of phishing is manipulation. Cyber criminals employ tactics to convince individuals to reveal sensitive data, which could lead to an account compromise – and at the heart of these tactics lies the use of deceptive emails.

These messages are crafted to appear as if they’re from trusted sources, making the recipient more likely to engage with the content. Such emails are designed to lead individuals into a trap that ends with their account controlled by the cyber criminal.

Embedded within many phishing emails are links. Clicking on these links redirects individuals to fake websites that mirror legitimate ones, with the intention of capturing login details. This is a direct avenue for attackers to obtain an account owned by more senior members of a company, as these higher-access accounts can then let them set the stage for further malicious activities.

Risks of BEC without Proper Safeguards

Financial Damage

Business Email Compromise poses a significant financial threat to organisations. When BEC attacks succeed, they can result in direct financial losses, primarily through fraudulent transfers.

Attackers often manipulate employees into transferring company funds into accounts they control. This not only causes immediate financial damage, but also strains company resources in efforts to recover these lost funds.

Data Exposure

Another alarming aspect of BEC is the potential exposure of confidential data. When cybercriminals gain unauthorised access to a business email account, they don’t just see opportunities for financial gain; they also gain access to sensitive company information, client details, and other proprietary data. This exposed data can be sold, leaked, or used for other malicious intents, putting the entire organisation at risk.

Reputation Hits

Beyond financial losses and data exposure, a successful BEC attack can severely tarnish a company’s reputation.

Public trust is hard-earned and easily lost. When clients, partners, and the broader public learn of a BEC incident, their trust in the company’s ability to safeguard critical data diminishes. This can lead to lost business opportunities, strained relationships, and long-term reputation damage that’s harder to quantify but equally devastating.

How to Protect Against BEC and Phishing

Strengthen Email Security

Safeguarding your email is the first line of defence against BEC and phishing attacks.

Implementing advanced email filters can help detect and block suspicious or malicious emails before they reach an employee’s inbox. These filters often use sophisticated algorithms to identify patterns associated with malicious intent.

Employee Training

Human error often facilitates cyberattacks. By regularly educating employees on the signs of BEC and phishing, you can empower them to recognise and report suspicious activity. Training sessions should be updated frequently to address evolving threats.

Two-Factor Authentication

Simply put, two-factor authentication (2FA) requires users to provide two separate verification steps to access accounts. By introducing this layer of security, even if a cybercriminal obtains login details, they are still prevented from accessing the account without the second verification step, which offers a robust deterrent against unauthorised access.

Regularly Monitor Transactions

In the financial landscape of a company, continuous vigilance is crucial. By regularly monitoring and auditing transactions, businesses can quickly identify and address any irregularities, ensuring that funds are not mistakenly transferred to fraudulent accounts or used inappropriately.

Benefits of Continued Learning

Stay Ahead of Threats

The landscape of cyber threats is not static; it is ever-changing. As cybercriminals develop new methods for Business Email Compromise, it’s essential for businesses to remain updated.

Continued learning ensures that you are not just reacting to threats, but are aware of potential risks before they become major concerns.

Builds Proactive Defence

Knowledge is a powerful tool in cybersecurity. When teams are trained and informed about the latest threat patterns, they can spot and neutralise threats early. This proactive approach reduces the chance of a successful cyber attack, and ensures that the business remains one step ahead of potential attackers.


In the world of cybersecurity, prevention is invariably cheaper than cure. Investing in ongoing training might seem like an added expense, but when weighed against the potential financial losses from a significant breach, it proves to be cost-effective. By ensuring that staff are well-equipped to handle threats, businesses can avoid the often hefty price tag associated with cyber incidents.

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Talk to one of our leading cybersecurity experts today, about how we can help you mitigate threats and safeguard your business.

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Talk to a cyber security expert today and secure your systems & data

Talk to one of our leading cyber security experts today, about how we can help you mitigate threats and safeguard your business.

30 min. consult with a trusted security expert

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