A cyber thief dressed in black stealing data
Property Casualty


Rod Miner
Rod Miner
Vice President of Commercial Claims, Property Casualty

‘Tis the season, in a growing number of cases, for increased social engineering attacks. With it being year-end and the holidays, people and organizations are busy, feeling generous, and sometimes just not paying close enough attention.

Per the United States Computer Emergency Team (US-CERT), in a social engineering attack, an attacker uses human interaction (social skills) to obtain or compromise information about an organization or its computer systems. An attacker may seem unassuming and respectable, possibly claiming to be a new employee, repair person, or researcher and even offering credentials to support that identity. However, by asking questions, he or she may be able to piece together enough information to infiltrate an organization’s network. If an attacker isn’t able to gather enough information from one source, he or she may contact another source within the same organization and rely on the information from the first source to add to his or her credibility. In short, it’s the use of deception to manipulate individuals into divulging confidential or personal information that may be used for fraudulent purposes.

With few exceptions, most businesses are vulnerable. According to the 2017 Annual Cybercrime Report from Cybersecurity Ventures, cybercrime could cost the world $6 trillion annually by 2021, double the $3 trillion seen in 2015. Cyber attacks are already the fastest growing crime in the U.S., and they’re increasing in size, sophistication, and cost, the report says.

The latest analysis of cyber insurance claims from Beazley reveals that while hacking and malware attacks prevail as the leading category of data breaches, social engineering attacks rose nine-fold in 2017. Social engineering can be quicker, easier, and cheaper to implement for cybercriminals than stealing data — and can be much more lucrative. And according to Beazley, cybercriminals are using social engineering more aggressively. Social engineering incidents rose from 1 percent of data breach incidents in the first nine months of 2016 to 9 percent in the same period of 2017. Beazley believes criminals are turning their attention to prey on human weaknesses in processes and controls rather than on technological vulnerabilities. They’re doing this by way of misleading them into disclosing sensitive information or the transfer of money to criminal recipients.

The two most prevalent types of social engineering incidents are fraudulent instruction incidents and phishing scams that target employees’ tax forms.

Fraudulent instruction is a form of business email compromise, in which a fraudster impersonates a trusted party, such as a chief executive, a payment system vendor, or lawyer. The criminal then provides fraudulent payment instructions to divert a planned payment or to cause a fraudulent payment to be made.

So, what can you do to avoid some Elf on the Shelf from ruining your Christmas?


  • Be suspicious of unsolicited phone calls, visits, or email messages from individuals asking about employees or other internal information. If an unknown individual claims to be from a legitimate organization, try to verify his or her identity directly with the company.
  • Do not provide personal information or information about your organization, including its structure or networks, unless you’re certain of a person’s authority to have the information.
  • Do not reveal personal or financial information in email, and never respond to email solicitations for this information. This includes following links sent in email.
  • Don’t send sensitive information over the Internet before checking a website’s security.
  • Pay attention to the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) of a website. Malicious websites may look identical to a legitimate site, but the URL may use a variation in spelling or a different domain (ex: .com vs. .net).
  • If you’re unsure whether an email request is legitimate, try to verify it by contacting the company directly. Don’t use contact information provided on a website connected to the request; instead, check previous statements for contact information. Information about known phishing attacks is also available online from groups such as the Anti-Phishing Working Group.
  • Install and maintain anti-virus software, firewalls, and email filters to reduce some of this traffic.
  • Take advantage of any anti-phishing features offered by your email client and Web browser.

Mele Kalikimaka! Now what?

What do you do if you think you’re a victim?

  • If you believe you might have revealed sensitive information about your organization, report it to the appropriate people within the organization, including network administrators. They can be on the alert for any suspicious or unusual activity.
  • If you believe your financial accounts may be compromised, contact your financial institution immediately and close any accounts you think may be impacted. Watch for any unexplainable charges to your account.
  • Immediately change any passwords you might have revealed. If you used the same password for multiple resources, make sure to change it for each account, and do not use that password in the future.
  • Watch for other signs of identity theft.
  • Consider reporting the attack to the police, and file a report with the Federal Trade Commission.

And last, but certainly not least, feel free to reach out to us to see if you have applicable cyber or social engineering coverage in place. Although these policies can vary greatly from one to the other, often times they will include loss prevention assistance and indirect loss cost coverage. Additionally, we recently held a webinar on this very thing titled Into the Breach: Responding to a Cybersecurity Incident from Start to Finish. I highly encourage checking it out!

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Contact Holmes Murphy to ask now and see what options are available. It might be the best Christmas gift you’ll ever buy yourself and your company.

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