Surge in swatting threats against corporate executives and board members
by Pushpendra Mehta, Executive Writer, CTMfile
Swatting – falsely reporting a violent crime (fake bomb threat, murder, shooting or hostage crisis) to the police to persuade them to send a well-armed special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team to the targeted location or site (unsuspecting home or workplace) – is on the rise in corporate America.
Surge in swatting of executives, board members and high-profile employees
Swatting has been around since the early 2000s and is primarily done for revenge or as a prank. Earlier, it was largely confined to the gaming world, but over the years, it has affected cybersecurity journalists, politicians and celebrities, among other groups, and now swatting attacks are being directed at corporate executives, board members and high-ranking personnel.
Last week, the digital executive protection company, BlackCloak, warned that “Over the last four months, its Threat Intelligence Team has identified a surge in doxxing and swatting of executives, board members, and other high-profile persons. These are not random attacks as cybercriminals are using information from the dark web, data broker information, company website ‘about the leadership team’ pages, and property records to target these executives. These attacks have been heavily focused on the healthcare, biomed, pharma, and esports gaming industries, but have expanded in recent weeks to other sectors.”
BlackCloak further explains that “Doxxing is the release of corporate executives, board members, and other high-profile person’s personal information (usually name, address, numbers, and/or email address) publicly on social media or other websites.”
In essence, doxxing is the exposing or publishing of someone’s private information on the internet without their consent. “This can cause unwanted attention, protests, or physical security risks for the family members at that residence”, cautions BlackCloak.
Given the proliferation of the internet and the abundant publicly available and stolen personal data about notable individuals (who may happen to be corporate executives) that can now be found online, it is easier than ever for swatters to identify a high-profile or C-suite executive to target. This poses a significant threat to such executives and their families.
Furthermore, malicious actors grab whatever they can to carry out a coordinated precision attack against corporate decision-makers. “Cybercriminals are using everything at their disposal to cause havoc and disrupt the security of corporate executives and board members in an effort to get to the bigger prize - corporate assets”, said Dr. Chris Pierson, CEO and Co-Founder of BlackCloak.
Proactive steps to mitigate swatting risk
Given that executive swatting has accelerated in recent months, BlackCloak advises corporate leaders to share less personal information.
Daniel Floyd, Chief Information Security Officer with BlackCloak, offers a second piece of advice to reduce the risk of swatting: “Executives are high-profile targets for cybercriminals and their private data must be protected in different ways than a standard employee.”
“As a CISO, it is critical that a plan be put in place to provide increased security for these individuals. At the very minimum, review and remove mention of home residence geographic location on the ‘About Us’ section of your corporate website”, he suggests.
A more difficult recommendation offered by Floyd for corporate executives and board members is not to register their homes in their own names, “but rather an anonymous trust or corporation.”
In the event that you or your colleague receive any swatting threats or feel that you are at high risk from a swatting attack, Floyd urges you to “Consider contacting your local law enforcement agency’s non-emergency number to speak about red flagging your address or if they have an anti-swatting registry.”
Corporate executives, board members and high-profile employees need to be aware of increasing swatting incidents, even as swatters are using online and stolen information to target the top ranks of organizations in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles, since the beginning of the year, as per BlackCloak.
In absence of a clear picture of who the attackers are, it is important for corporate leaders to pay attention to BlackCloak’s most important advice – “Remove your personal information from data broker sites.” After all, “By capturing and reselling personally identifiable information ranging from emails, phone numbers, familial associations, geolocations, and home addresses to business records, browsing and search history, financial assets, social media posts, and voting records, data broker websites are akin to Walmart for hackers: they provide seemingly everything that’s needed at little to no cost”, cautions BlackCloak.
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