What are Impersonation Attacks? Common Types & Best Protective Measures

Last Updated: 

March 23, 2024

What are Impersonation Attacks? Types & Protective Measures

Countless individuals have lost millions of dollars due to online impersonation attacks. A study by the FBI reveals in 2023, nearly $1.3 billion was duped by malicious actors posing to be contacting legitimate entities or government authorities. Monetary losses in the US occurring due to impersonation crimes have witnessed a rise from $178.3 million to $1.3 billion between 2019 and 2023. 

Cybercriminals disguise themselves as legitimate individuals or entities, coaxing vulnerable people to disclose personal information or share login credentials. These attacks can take any form including online impersonation, phishing, whaling, CEO fraud, in-person impersonation, and identity fraud. 

Key Takeaways on Protecting Your Business from Impersonation Attacks

  1. Online impersonation poses a significant threat: With cybercriminals becoming increasingly sophisticated, it's crucial to recognise the dangers of online impersonation attacks, which can lead to financial losses and data breaches.
  2. Various forms of impersonation attacks exist: From phishing to business email compromise, cybercriminals employ diverse tactics to deceive individuals and organisations, emphasising the need for comprehensive security measures.
  3. Phishing remains a prevalent threat: Phishing attacks, where fraudsters impersonate legitimate authorities via email, continue to endanger users by tricking them into revealing sensitive information or installing malware.
  4. Business Email Compromise targets organisations: Through sophisticated social engineering, cybercriminals manipulate business emails to defraud companies, highlighting the importance of robust email security measures.
  5. Account takeover attacks exploit stolen credentials: Cybercriminals gain unauthorised access to online accounts, including bank and social media accounts, by exploiting compromised login credentials obtained through various means.
  6. Mitigate Man-in-the-Middle attacks: Organisations must be vigilant against MITM attacks, where fraudsters intercept communications to gain sensitive information, by ensuring secure connections and protocols.
  7. Proactive measures are essential: Implementing automated software, email security solutions, custom email domains, and conducting awareness training are critical steps in preventing impersonation attacks and safeguarding against cyber threats.
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What is Impersonation? 

It refers to a deceptive technique employed by bad actors targeting unsuspecting people to disclose personal information. The acquired information is utilised to conduct fraudulent activities and even to facilitate organised crimes. Online impersonation commonly takes place via email, where fraudsters target vulnerable identities and send deceptive emails.  Subsequently, fraudsters ask to share personal information, posing themselves as financial institutions or legitimate bodies. The users consider email to be received from the individual or entity they are familiar with and end up sharing their personal information. 

Types of Impersonation Attacks  

Online impersonation attacks are continuously evolving as cybercriminals have become sophisticated with the advancements in technology and effortlessly bypass authentication systems with their deceptive schemes. 

Here are several types of online impersonation attacks and how they take place 

1. Phishing

Phishing refers to a deceptive scheme employed by malicious actors to fool vulnerable people by sending emails. By using fake or stolen email accounts, cybercriminals pose themselves as legitimate authorities, even fooling top executives of the company. Phishing attacks can severely impact individuals and organisations, leading to identity fraud, installing malware into devices, and data breaches. 

2. Business Email Compromise 

It is a type of cyberattack where cyber criminals leverage email-based social engineering and target a business to defraud the company. Using the company’s email, the hacker requires vendors for invoice payments. The emails don’t contain malicious links or attachments and are hard to detect as they appear to come from legitimate sources. 

3. Account-takeover Attack 

Also referred to as compromised email account attacks, account take-over attacks involve cybercriminals getting unauthorised access to online accounts. The accounts might be bank accounts, social media accounts, or e-commerce accounts. Using stolen or manipulatively acquired login credentials, malicious actors get illegitimate access to accounts and then use them for fraudulent endeavours. 

4. Man-in-the-middle (MITM) Attack 

In this type of online impersonation attack, cybercriminals sneak into communications between individuals, services, or vendors. The fraudsters take advantage of loopholes in HTTPS connections or insecure Wifi, get unauthorised access to sensitive information, and utilise the acquired information for personal benefits. 

Best Practices to Prevent Online Impersonation Attack

Individuals must take precautionary measures to prevent online impersonation, however, organisations bear a bigger role in this pursuit. As organisations have data of hundreds of thousands of individuals, they need to develop robust measures to preserve information privacy and financial integrity. 

Here are some best practices organisations must  implement to actively fight impersonation crime 

  • Automated Software: Many organisations are known to employ Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms and automated software to avoid bad actors' deceptive techniques. This practice must be exercised by every industry to filter emails and identify online impersonation attacks before their manifestation. The software substantially spots suspicious activities by cross-matching the incoming emails with registered phishing scripts. 
  • Email Security Solutions: Anti-malware & anti-spam software play a crucial role in safeguarding people from falling into deceptive email traps. Firms and organisations can protect their employees and customers from the potential consequences of email scams by using these security solutions. The solutions substantially deter malicious emails, attachments, and URLs, thus protecting individuals from falling victim to cyberattacks. 
  • Custom email Domain: Businesses should leverage custom email domains rather than relying on general email services like Gmail or Yahoo. Custom email domains refer to giving a brand or company’s name to create email addresses, unlike generic names. This practice may help achieve better control over email data and enable efficient user permission handling. 
  • Awareness training: To keep employees informed about the latest impersonation attacks, organisations should develop security awareness training programs and sessions. The agenda must include the industry’s best practices such as continuously monitoring systems, employing strong passwords, and identifying and effectively tackling any cases of scams. 

Last Word 

Malicious actors use technology in nefarious ways to advance their tactics and continuously evolve impersonation techniques, compromising national security.  The funds acquired through online impersonation attacks stimulate bad actors to facilitate organised crime and augment their illicit schemes. Tackling impersonation is not that complex, all you need to do is stay alert and implement robust protective measures. Businesses can mitigate the risks of falling victim to these attacks by leveraging AI-driven & automated software, conducting awareness sessions, using custom email domains, and employing secured email protocols. Additionally, ensuring commitment to safeguarding digital personas and preserving the reliability of online interactions can play a pivotal role in preventing impersonation schemes. 

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