How Hackers Emptied Church Coffers with a Phishing Attack and Social Engineering Phone Call



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Cyber thieves aren't bound by a code of ethics. They look for weak targets and high rewards, which is exactly what Saint Ambrose Catholic offered.

DarkReading reported: "The approach was simple, a combination email scam and social engineering phone call. All it took was a call to St. Ambrose Catholic Parish, claiming to be Marous Brothers Construction, a company working on a church renovation project for the past two months. But the phone call wasn’t from Marous Brothers Construction. The scammers told the church that payments were late.

statement from the Saint Ambrose Catholic Parish's Father Bob Stec said:

On Wednesday, Marous Brothers [construction] called inquiring as to why we had not paid our monthly payment on the project for the past two months totaling approximately $1,750,000. This was shocking news to us, as we have been very prompt on our payments every month and have received all the appropriate confirmations from the bank that the wire transfers of money to Marous were executed/confirmed.

The scammers convinced the church that the construction company they hired had changed their bank. Hindsight being 20/20, whoever received the call should have confirmed with another source. But they didn't. Father Stec explained:

Upon a deeper investigation by the FBI, we found that our email system was hacked and the perpetrators were able to deceive us into believing Marous Brothers had changed their bank and wiring instructions. The result is that our payments were sent to a fraudulent bank account and the money was then swept out by the perpetrators before anyone knew what had happened.

Protect Thyself: Even the Sacred Are at Risk

According to the FBI, the criminals breached the church's email account, then began a waiting game during which the hackers sat back and read all of the conversations in the inbox. Eventually, they were able to glean enough information to convince the church to wire them money. Before the church realized, it was out $1.75 million in the middle of a major renovation, and all it took was a few emails, some Photoshop skills, and a phone call to derail the good intentions of the parish.

Saint Ambrose lost nearly $2 million as a result of the cyberattack, and may or may not get it back. The cost to prevent it could have been as simple as:

  • A few hours of paid time for a cybersecurity consultant
  • Employee training on how to not get phished
  • A few hundred dollars' worth of software (firewall, VPN, etc)

Darkreading has the full story: https://www.darkreading.com/network-and-perimeter-security/how-hackers-emptied-church-coffers-with-a-simple-phishing-scam/a/d-id/1334971


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