Infiltrated email accounts can provide a trove of useful data for malicious actors to exploit as they offer a gateway into people’s work and personal lives. Read on as we take a closer look at some of the unwanted occurrences that a hacked email account can lead to and what criminals can do with access to an address.
Perhaps the most common use of a hacked email account is for a threat operator to send messages. While this activity might not seem to be particularly dangerous, it can still cause trouble. Even if they don’t possess access to a user’s email account, a hacker who knows their authentic email address can transmit spoofed messages via an outbound mail server and some store-bought mail software.
With a forged email address, they can launch a variety of scams and schemes that users would prefer never to be associated with. These include email content containing malware links or fake requests to receive a payment. In best-case scenarios, this can make users look foolish, cast suspicion on them and damage their professional and personal image.
However, in more extreme cases, users can find they are unwitting participants in crimes against trusted colleagues, clients, suppliers, and members of the public.
Accessing an email address can be stage one in a cybercriminal strategy. After obtaining an email address, the attacker can contact its user and try to fool them into parting with the account password. If successful, the hacker will be able to access the users’ email accounts.
A common ploy to steal credentials is to send users an email alert reporting that their account has been illegally accessed. The email will request a change of password, and when a new one is selected, the hacker will harvest it to use later.
Today, a commonplace occurrence when establishing an online account is for email addresses to be used as a form of user login. This approach has been adopted by multiple social media sites, e-commerce websites and financial services, such as PayPal.
Effectively, this means that if a hacker knows an individual’s email address, they have one part of their login details. They then only require the password to access the account.
This vulnerability is made worse by the sad fact that many users do not understand the importance of password security. Oversimplified options are chosen, like “Password”, “12345678”, names of pets, and dates of birth. These last two choices for passwords might seem hard to crack. However, if a hacker browses unprotected content on social media, they can discover these details from posts about pets and birthday messages from well-wishers.
Email accounts can contain a wide range of personal information. Some users may exchange company and personal banking passwords and payment card details by email, which end up stored and forgotten. If a threat operator manages to access a person’s financial details via a compromised account, like debit and credit card numbers, the effects can be devastating. They can use the details to make purchases, deplete account funds and even open up brand-new accounts to give themselves a fresh line of credit.
What began with simply illegally obtaining an email address can quickly lead to accounts being accessed. Hackers can then use the data retained in inboxes and outboxes after searching it using the helpful tool included by most email service providers.
In compromised email accounts, threat operators may locate all manner of different PII they can employ, from copies of a person’s driving license to company credit card details shared when a staff member needed to make a purchase.
Having their fingers in an email account will also offer cybercriminals access to a user’s professional or social network. This offers them access to a mailing list of new targets, including friends, family members, business contacts and colleagues.
Threat operators often use this information combined with social engineering tactics to increase their foothold in a company’s infrastructure. Using the email addresses of contacts and an understanding of their professional and social circles, hackers create finely honed attacks known as “spear-phishing”.
This attack vector selects a specific target and attempts to trick them using a believable impersonation of a trusted colleague or company executive. With a wealth of personal data and a list of regular email contacts obtained from a compromised email account, this process is child’s play for hackers.
Finally, after obtaining PII like full names, dates of birth, NI numbers, driver’s licenses and financial credentials, cybercriminals access the option to steal an individual’s identity.
As a result, a victim may suffer a wide range of unwanted scenarios, including criminal investigations and financial losses, causing damage to their professional and personal reputation.
At CARA Technology, we advise firms throughout Cheshire to safeguard their infrastructure and ensure their digital assets are protected from malicious operators. From expert cybersecurity health checks to cutting-edge tools that can identify if your mail accounts are exposed or being used by threat operators in scams, you can rely on our team for support.
If you’re now looking to strengthen your firm’s IT security defences, or want an audit of your existing measures, contact us now to access our specialist services.
Or take our FREE Cyber Security Risk Assessment: https://cara.uk.com/csra