The Rising Threat of Vendor Email Compromise

February 17, 2021

The prolific attack on SolarWinds and their partner ecosystem will forever change how we view supply chain security and the role email communication plays in it. As the events and details surrounding the attack continue to unfold, we have learned from the company itself that for at least nine months an “email account was compromised and used to programmatically access accounts of targeted SolarWinds personnel in business and technical roles”.

This key discovery into how the SolarWinds attack started—from a compromised email account—puts a spotlight on the recent findings in Abnormal Security’s The Rising Threat of Vendor Email Compromise in a Post-SolarWinds Era threat research report. In the report, Abnormal goes in-depth into the world of vendor email compromise (VEC) and outlines the rate of acceleration, as well as the financial threat these attacks pose to businesses without proper controls in place.

Key Report Takeaways

  • Companies have a 50% chance of getting attacked through SolarWinds-style vendor email compromise in Q4 2020, an increase of 24% over Q3 2020.
  • The highest observed cost of a VEC attack stopped by Abnormal Security was $1.6 million.
  • The average potential cost of vendor email compromise attacks is $183,000.
  • Billing account update fraud is the costliest form of VEC attack, at close to $300,000 on average per attack.

Why Vendor Email Compromise Works

Supply chain communications are trusted and typically convey a sense of urgency, making it easy for these types of attacks to blend in with legitimate and valid emails. Since the attacks come from trusted, yet impersonated or compromised vendor accounts, organizations often cannot detect when an attack is underway until it is too late.

Additionally, enterprises that use traditional security solutions find emails from compromised vendors are able to bypass existing controls. This gap in protection is highly problematic for security teams who have invested in protection but are still susceptible to vendor compromises.

Abnormal Security Stops the VEC Problem

Abnormal stops socially engineered VEC attacks that bypass traditional solutions and make their way into unsuspecting employees inboxes in the following ways:

  • API Architecture: Abnormal connects into Microsoft Office 365 and Google Workspace via an API, and in doing so, it gives the platform access to signals and data that are needed to detect suspicious activity such as unusual geolocations, IP addresses, mail rule filter changes, unusual devices, and more.
  • AI-Detection Intelligence: Using identity modeling, behavioral and relationship graphs, and deep content analysis, Abnormal provides unparalleled detection intelligence to stop emails that include suspicious financial requests. This includes billing account updates, suspicious links used to phish credentials from employees, and invoices that contain unusual amounts or never-before-seen bank account information.
  • VendorBase: Abnormal has a global, federated database of vendor and customer behaviors to stop supply chain compromise. VendorBase continuously monitors communications between vendors and customers, and provides a real-time, stateful risk assessment enabling the Abnormal AI-detection engine to stop these targeted and sophisticated supply chain attacks.

VendorBase Provides Proactive Supply Chain Risk Management

For enterprises with thousands of vendors in their supply chain, it’s a monumental challenge to have real-time insights into which ones have known risks to your organization. VendorBase automates this process and removes the manual burden of remediating and investigating VEC attacks from compromised vendors.

VendorBase also tracks the reputations of an organization’s vendors and customers, and improves the detection accuracy for advanced social engineering attacks. Benefits include:

  • No Configuration or Setup Required: Automatically classifies vendors and customers based on your email communication.
  • Continuous Reputation and Risk Scoring: Automatically computed vendor/customer risk score based on domains being impersonated or spoofed, accounts being compromised, and suspicious or illegitimate businesses.
  • Stop Attacks, Enable Remediation: Provides detailed views of all vendors and stops supply chain attacks from impersonated, spoofed, or compromised vendors.

To learn more, download a copy of The Rising Threat of Vendor Email Compromise in a Post-SolarWinds Era.

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