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Impersonation Attack: Defining, Types, Spotting and Combating

This blog post delves into impersonation in cybersecurity, explaining how it works, providing examples, and showing how employees can spot and prevent these social engineering scams using Keepnet tools.

Impersonation Attack: Defining, Types, Spotting and Combating

Impersonation attacks occur when attackers impersonate contacts or organizations to deceive victims. These attacks pose a significant threat to businesses, leading to financial losses, data breaches, and reputational damage.

Federal Trade Commission data shows that impersonation social engineering costs consumers over $10 billion in 2023, marking a significant increase in fraud losses.

This blog post explores impersonation attacks, their types, how to spot them, and strategies to protect your business from these social engineering scams.

What is Impersonation Attack

An impersonation attack is a type of security breach where an attacker assumes the identity of a legitimate user to gain unauthorized access to systems, networks, or information.

For example, an attacker might send an email that appears to be from a trusted source, such as a company’s IT department, informing the recipient of a supposed security issue and asking them to click a link to reset their password.

The recipient, believing the email is real, clicks the link and is directed to a fake login page where they enter their credentials.

The attacker captures these credentials and uses them to log into the company’s internal systems, gaining unauthorized access to sensitive information and resources.

This can lead to severe consequences, including financial loss, data breaches, reputational damage, and legal issues for the victim organization.

What are the Most Common Types of Impersonation Attack

The most common types of impersonation attacks. .webp
Picture 1: The most common types of impersonation attacks.

The types of impersonation attacks are based on pretending to be trusted individuals or entities to deceive victims and gain unauthorized access, and here are the most common ones:

  1. Spear Phishing: A more targeted form of phishing aimed at specific individuals, such as company employees or high-profile executives, or specific organizations, often using personalized information to increase credibility.
  2. CEO Fraud (Business Email Compromise): Pretending to be a high-ranking executive to trick employees into transferring money or sharing confidential information.
  3. Email Impersonation Attacks: Sending phishing emails that appear to come from a trusted source to deceive recipients into taking actions such as transferring money or providing sensitive information.
  4. Vishing: Using phone calls to impersonate trusted entities and trick victims into giving sensitive information.
  5. Smishing: Sending fake text messages to trick recipients into providing personal information or clicking on malicious links.
  6. Man-in-the-Middle (MitM): Secretly listening to and modifying the communication between two parties to steal information or inject malicious content.
  7. Social Media Impersonation: Creating fake profiles on social media platforms to deceive contacts, gather personal information, or spread malware.

Email Impersonation Attack

Email impersonation attacks involve attackers pretending to be a trusted person or organization in email communications to deceive recipients and gain access to sensitive information, financial resources, or systems.

The types of email impersonation attacks include:

  • Executive Impersonation (CEO Fraud): Attackers pretend to be high-ranking executives to trick employees into sharing confidential information or making unauthorized payments.
  • Supply Chain Compromise: Attackers pose as trusted vendors or suppliers to fool recipients into transferring money or sharing sensitive information.
  • Account Takeover: Attackers hack an employee’s email account and send emails to colleagues, making them believe the emails are legitimate to steal data or money.
  • Sender Name Impersonation: Attackers slightly change the display name to make emails look like they are from trusted sources.
  • Domain Spoofing: Attackers alter domain names slightly to make email addresses look real and trustworthy.
  • Look-Alike Domains: Attackers create domains that look very similar to legitimate ones to deceive recipients.
  • Compromised Email Accounts: Attackers take over real email accounts and use them to send emails that seem legitimate to further their schemes.

Who is at Risk of an Impersonation Attack?

The key targets of impersonation attacks. .webp
Picture 2: The key targets of impersonation attacks.

Anyone with valuable or sensitive information can be at risk of an impersonation attack. This includes:

  1. Individuals: Everyday users can be targeted for personal information, financial details, or identity theft.
  2. Employees: Workers at all levels within an organization can be targeted to gain access to corporate systems and data.
  3. Executives: High-ranking officials such as CEOs and CFOs are often targeted due to their access to sensitive information and decision-making power.
  4. Businesses: Companies of all sizes can be targeted to steal proprietary information, financial assets, or customer data.
  5. Government Agencies: Public sector organizations can be targeted for classified information or to disrupt operations.
  6. Healthcare Providers: Hospitals and clinics are targeted for patient data and financial information.
  7. Educational Institutions: Schools and universities can be targeted for student and staff information.

Attackers target individuals or entities with impersonation attempts by impersonating contacts or organizations to exploit trust. This allows them to gain unauthorized access for financial gain, data theft, or operational disruption.

How to Spot an Impersonation Attack

To spot an impersonation attack, look for unusual requests, especially those involving financial transactions or sensitive information.

Additionally, check for inconsistencies in email addresses and contact details. Be cautious of messages that create a sense of urgency or pressure you to act quickly, as these are common tactics in impersonation social engineering.

Furthermore, poor grammar and spelling can be warning signs, as well as unfamiliar links or attachments.

If you receive unexpected contact from someone you know, verify their identity through another communication channel.

Also, be cautious of generic greetings and requests for sensitive information, as legitimate organizations typically do not ask for these via email or phone. Inconsistent communication styles and unexpected two-factor authentication alerts are also red flags.

By being careful and recognizing these signs of impersonation in cybersecurity, you can better protect yourself from an impersonation attempt.

How to Prevent an Impersonation Attack

The 9 steps to prevent impersonation attacks. .webp
Picture 3: The 9 steps to prevent impersonation attacks.

To prevent an impersonation attack, follow these steps:

  • Verify Contacts: Always verify the identity of individuals through a separate communication channel, such as a phone call or a different email address, before sharing sensitive information.
  • Use Strong Passwords: Employ complex passwords that include a mix of letters, numbers, and special characters, and change them regularly.
  • Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): Add an extra layer of security to your accounts.
  • Be Cautious with Links and Attachments: Avoid clicking on suspicious links or downloading attachments from unknown sources.
  • Educate Employees: Train staff to recognize and respond to impersonation social engineering.
  • Monitor Accounts: Regularly check accounts for unauthorized access or unusual activity.
  • Update Software: Keep all software and systems up to date to protect against vulnerabilities.
  • Use Security Tools: Implement email filters, firewalls, and anti-virus software to detect and block malicious activities.
  • Report Suspicious Activity: Immediately report any suspected impersonation attempts to your IT department or relevant authorities.

To make this approach effective, consistently educate and remind employees of these practices and regularly review and update security protocols to address new threats.

How Keepnet Helps Organizations Against an Impersonation Attack

Keepnet Security Awareness Training empowers organizations by educating employees on how to recognize and respond to impersonation attacks.

As frontline defenders, employees need to be aware of tactics like phishing, spear phishing, and CEO fraud, which helps reduce data breaches and financial losses.

The training promotes secure communication, strong password practices, and multi-factor authentication, fostering a robust security culture.

Key features include:

  • Comprehensive Content Selection: Access over 2,000 training modules from 12+ providers, focusing on identifying and preventing impersonation attacks.
  • Behavior-Based Training: Utilize phishing simulators (Vishing, Smishing, Quishing, Callback Phishing, MFA) to train employees based on their responses, preventing future mistakes.
  • Personalized Learning and Gamification: Engage employees with gamified elements like leaderboards and custom certificates, making training interactive and memorable.
  • SMS Training Delivery: Send training directly to mobile devices, protecting all employees against smishing, phishing, and impersonation threats.
  • Advanced Reporting: Get detailed reports to track progress and address risks related to impersonation attacks.
  • Regulatory and Role-Based Training: Ensure compliance with regulations like HIPAA and GDPR, providing tailored training for different roles emphasizing security against impersonation attacks.
  • Custom Content Creation: Create and upload custom training materials to address unique organizational needs, specifically targeting impersonation attack prevention.

By leveraging these features, Keepnet Security Awareness Training helps organizations build a strong security culture, enhance defenses against impersonation in cybersecurity, and ensure privacy and security across the organization.

Watch the video below to learn more about how Keepnet Security Awareness Training can help your organization effectively address impersonation attacks.



Schedule your 30-minute demo now!

You'll learn how to:
tickEnhance your cybersecurity with Keepnet's training, boosting phishing report rates by up to 92%.
tickGet phishing risk scores, compare against industry standards, and share insights with executives for enhanced security.
tickAccess over 2,000 training courses in 36 languages to increase awareness and protection against impersonation attacks and other evolving cybersecurity threats.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Impersonation Spoofing?

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Impersonation spoofing is a cyber attack where attackers pretend to be a trusted individual or organization by faking their identity, typically through email or online communication, to deceive and manipulate victims into revealing sensitive information or performing actions that benefit the attacker.

Are Impersonation Attacks Hard to Detect? Why?

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Yes, impersonation attacks are hard to detect because attackers often use sophisticated methods to mimic trusted contacts, making fake communications appear legitimate.

How to Report An Impersonation Attack

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To report an impersonation attack, first notify your IT department and collect evidence. Then, report the incident to local authorities and inform any affected parties. Finally, report the attack to the relevant service provider, such as the email or social media platform used in the attack, to help them take action against the attacker and prevent future incidents.

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