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Dangerous emails and links – Common scams

An unfortunate recent trend, is that ransomware developers are deliberately targeting SMEs. They’re doing this simply because SMEs are more likely to pay, than many other classes of victim.

Fake invoice fraud

One attack frequently against small business, is fake invoice fraud. Fraudsters adopting this attack method thoroughly research their victims using readily available information that they find on websites, social media or other online forums. Typically, they will pose as a real supplier, sending a genuine looking invoice, aiming to trick you into remitting money to their imposter’s account or, they might hack into your system to email fake invoices, apparently from you, to your real customers.

They use every social engineering trick in the book. For example, urgent payment demand emails frequently arrive just before a holiday or the weekend. Knowing that staff will be busy and less likely to double-check.

A look a ransomware

Ransomware has been in the news recently. Industry reports indicate that ransomware attacks on small business have become more frequent. Let’s take you through an example of how a typical ransomware attack occurs. Before the ransomware attack, you can read and write files on your computer or network as you would expect.

Then … seemingly out of the blue … a ransom demand arrives. There are a number of different ones. But, their intent is the same. Typically, it uses your browser. It will warn you, saying that your key documents and files have been encrypted. It will tell you that you have to make a payment. Usually, this payment will be in Bitcoins. Effectively, Bitcoins are an untraceable form of currency. It’s usual to have a countdown clock, after which the price increases, or your files will be lost forever.

If you pay the ransom demand, you’ve got a reasonably good chance of retrieving your data. But, you need to be aware that 7% of ransom payers don’t recover their data.

Bluff ransomware

There’s an additional kind of ransomware, called bluff ransomware. Industry reports claim that 40% of large businesses have fallen victim to bluff ransomware. As the name suggests, bluff ransomware doesn’t really encrypt your files. But it does lock your screen and can be pesky, but not impossible to remove.

The idea is that it panics frightened users so much, that they pay up without really investigating how to remove it.

Data theft

Another of the common scams against small companies is data theft. It’s very common for fraudsters to target the finance and accounting teams of a company. Because, that’s where the money is. They’re seeking sensitive or confidential information. Information about debit and credit cards, bank account passwords, anything that could lead them to where the money is.

One of the ways that they can do this, is if they can introduce keylogging software. Such software is relatively easy to obtain, but it has to be installed on the victim’s system. If you can get hold of such information, you’ve now got the financial keys to their kingdom.

How to protect yourself

What advice can be offered to a small business seeking to protect itself from these common scams? Mainly, it comes down to raising staff information security awareness. Ensure staff understand they need to be vigilant about payment requests. Particularly when such requests are made at busy times. That, when they receive a demand for payment, they should validate the contact’s email address, rather than simply hitting the reply button and, if they feel at all doubtful about making a payment, call the supplier directly to check that the payment is really due.

Prior to making the payment. Other protective measures, particularly around ransomware threats. If a ransomware demand arrives, seek expert security advice, it could be bluff ransomware and can be relatively easily removed. But, if you do make a ransom payment, be aware that you still run the risk that you may not recover all of your data or, the attacker may return, demanding further payments.

In the case of ransomware, an ounce of prevention is far better than a pound of cure. Take simple precautions. Educate staff about commonplace threats. Keep multiple backups of your data stored in different places. Such strategies significantly reduce your chances of becoming an unhappy, poorer ransomware victim.

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This is a preview lecture from our online course ‘Information Security Awareness’, for the full course please visit

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