It can take years of work to establish a world-renowned brand, but just one malicious email to destroy it. 

Email- and web-borne brand exploitation attempts are on the rise. Mimecast’s 2022 State of Email Security Report found that more than 90% of organizations experienced an email- or web-based spoofing attack in the previous 12 months. These types of attacks are increasing for 46% of organizations, compared to just 19% who say they are declining.

Brand spoofing attacks can lead to the loss of revenue and consumer trust and have long-term negative outcomes. That means cyber risk is business risk, and protecting your brand is paramount to protecting your reputation and bottom line. 

Brand Spoofing: Offensive and Defensive Tactics 

There are two primary ways in which threat actors execute brand spoofing attacks. The first occurs within an organization, where, under the guise of remote IT support, attackers are capitalizing on remote work environments to pose as the organization and its suppliers in the hopes of luring end-users into clicking on links, providing credentials, or installing (malicious) software. The second occurs externally, where threat actors impersonate brands to attack supply chains, customers, and partners, often making contact through email and directing victims to spoofed web domains. These attacks are typically camouflaged as donation drives, unauthorized purchase notifications, closeout sales, or offers tied to timely geopolitical and other events.

Brand spoofing attempts pose a major threat to organizations. However, there are several precautions brands can take to shore up defenses against these attacks. Below are three critical steps to a strong brand protection framework that will help maintain customer trust and keep your work protected: 

  • Understand your web and domain real estate. Brands need a firm grasp on their owned web assets and domains to understand where key vulnerabilities exist. Where possible, consolidate domains under a single registrar so your IT and security teams can implement protections and remediations effectively. Vulnerabilities should be patched early and often, backed by strong processes and technologies, and organizations should ensure all new domains and web assets are properly secured from the onset. 
  • Implement DMARC. The Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance (DMARC) email authentication standard is a necessity for brands looking to prevent domain spoofing and thwart attackers attempting to trick customers and suppliers into thinking that a malicious email is legitimate. Deploy DMARC protections to fortify your preexisting security solutions, and expect your trusted suppliers and partners to do the same. 
  • Reduce your attack surface area as much as possible. In addition to the above, there’s a lot that goes into reducing your attack surface: understanding threat actor TTPs, implementing streamlined processes, leveraging best-in-class solutions, investing in security awareness training, and more. To maximize efficacy, ensure your cybersecurity framework is holistic and clearly defined. 

Work Smarter with AI and Tool Consolidation

Organizations can look to artificial intelligence (AI) and tool consolidation to simplify processes, augment overworked security teams, and drive efficiencies. AI-powered email security solutions leverage a fusion of threat intelligence and real-world contextual data to help organizations protect their brands swiftly and effectively. 

AI can ingest a high volume of data from a variety of sources and fuse that with your brand and digital assets to streamline threat detection and remediation. By automating the analysis of both incoming threats and shared API intelligence from the external world, it can detect common twists of your brand’s name and domains and then alert employees in real time. A strong feedback loop is critical here for continuous fine-tuning. This helps identify new threat actors and weed out false positives so that the AI isn’t flagging legitimate emails, thus causing security efforts to lose credibility and spur frustration among employees. 

AI is crucial in augmenting labor for ever-changing and often understaffed security teams. It enables organizations to take their security team’s expertise, automate it, and codify it to allocate their time and resources to more difficult challenges that strongly influence security posture. 

In addition to AI/ML adoption, security teams should also prioritize tool consolidation to simplify their tech stacks. On average, companies with more than 10,000 employees leverage 45 different security monitoring tools, many of which go unused, underused, or otherwise forgotten. Communication is key, and it’s important that your separate security solutions can operate in tandem and complement one another to reduce friction. For example, if you detect a spoofed website, how can you ensure web and email traffic to that malicious site is proactively blocked?

An early warning system should be strung together by your out-of-the-box integrations or APIs and custom programming to “create your own recipe” and find immediate value. By leveraging APIs in your ecosystem of controls, threat intelligence can be cross-pollinated among endpoint solutions, firewall solutions, and other threat detection stacks so they can be enriched and more effective in protecting your brand. 

Articulating Cyber Risk as Business Risk to Get Buy-in 

People, processes, and technology make up the age-old holy trinity of a strong cybersecurity framework. The framework’s goal is to protect the organization’s communications, people and data, which can directly impact your brand if not protected. However, there can often be a disconnect that gets in the way of protecting your brand and keeping your communications, people and data safe. The disconnect is that the teams tasked with building brands are often siloed from the teams tasked with protecting them. So how can we bridge the gap and make stakeholders in non-security roles prioritize brand exploitation? 

The key is identifying commonalities among stakeholders and articulating risk in terms that resonate with their priorities. For example, consider asking your chief marketing officer: “On a scale of one to five, with five being the worst thing that could happen to this company, what’s your five? Is it losing X number of customers or potential deals? Losing Y dollars? Long-term reputational damage?” Once you know what that “five” is, you can identify common goals, provide real-world examples, and translate the technical aspects of IT security into business terms. 

After securing collective buy-in among key stakeholders, be sure to document and execute on that commitment, including it as a key metric in quarterly meetings with senior leadership or your board of directors. Accountability for the quality and consistency of risk mitigation efforts will be paramount moving forward; in fact, Gartner forecasts that by 2026, 50% of C-level executives will have performance requirements related to risk built into their employment contracts

There’s no denying that brand spoofing is a significant and impactful attack vector. While there’s no silver bullet to eliminating the threat of brand impersonation attacks, organizations can leverage a strategic mix of processes, technology, and people to proactively mitigate risk from all angles. In doing so, they safeguard the hard-earned legacies and critical reputations of their brand.