Trick e-mail = fraudulent wire transfer = hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars stolen.

emailThat’s what’s happening with business executives in select industries (e.g., chemical operations, manufacturing), says a report at threatpost.com, citing a finding from Dell SecureWorks.

The phishing e-mails are part of those Nigerian scams you’ve heard so much about, a business e-mail compromise scheme.

Security researchers have gotten a good glimpse into the inner workings of the BEC, thanks to one of the hackers, a key player, accidentally infesting his computer with the BEC malware.

The threatpost.com article explains that Joe Stewart of Dell’s Counter Threat Unit says that this hackster routinely uploads keystroke logs and screenshots to a server. This data includes many identities of the hacking group, and has been given to law enforcement for investigation. Stewart says that, thanks to the accidental infection, researchers have gained insight into the innards of their operation, such as viewing the group’s desktops.

What the hackers do is scour websites of specific industries for e-mail addresses. They construct e-mails, add malicious attachments, then send them along, hoping to get into a user’s account, which they then compromise. Their goal is monetary transactions between the target company and the hackers pose as a vendor which the company may already deal with.

The hacker/vendor replies with invoice and payment instructions, and the company is not aware that the recipient is the hacker. The hacker forwards the e-mail to the buyer who is tricked into wiring funds to the hacker. Though this group is not sophisticated, they’ve managed to come away with hundreds of thousands of dollars just from one company. Upon success the wired funds are directed to the hackers.

Overall, the scams have resulted in $3.1 billion lost, says the FBI. The article points out that the BEC scheme is not to be confused with the BES scams (business e-mail spoofing). The BEC operation doesn’t send spoofed e-mails; it uses malware or exploits to gain control of e-mail accounts.

Robert Siciliano CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com, personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video.

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