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Executive Hacking: What It Is and How to Fight It

By Published On: November 16th, 20214 min read


This is the fifth post in our HackNotice Recovery series, detailing the most common threats and how to mitigate your […]

Executive Hacking for Cybersecurity

This is the fifth post in our HackNotice Recovery series, detailing the most common threats and how to mitigate your risk.


Senior executives have practically unlimited access to all of their organizations’ most sensitive and valuable data. They’re also extremely busy, overbooked, and historically tricky to pin down for security awareness training initiatives.


In other words, they’re a hacker’s dream target.


According to data from Verizon, c-suite executives are 12 times more likely to be targeted by cybercriminals than their employees. And, according to data shared by Information Age, 40% of companies reported their c-suite level employees were their highest security risk.


When hackers succeed in hacking executives (which is happening more often), they hit a veritable data jackpot: access to the entire organization’s network, personally identifiable information (PII) for every member of the company, juicy intellectual property, and more. As you might imagine, this can be devastating to businesses of any size.

Fortunately, you’re not defenseless. Here’s what you need to know about executive hacking and how to prevent it:


What is Executive Phone Hacking?

Executive hacking is a form of cybercrime in which cybercriminals exploit a vulnerability in an executive’s security habits to gain access to a company’s network or impersonate executives to deceive employees into revealing sensitive information (also known as executive fraud).

Cybercriminals are usually seeking the biggest gain for the least amount of work. And that’s precisely why upper-level executives make prime targets: successfully hacking into executives’ accounts provides access to a massive volume of hyper-valuable data in one fell swoop. A single well-timed attack can earn cybercriminals millions when sold on the dark web or held for ransom.

The act of targeting senior members of an organization is so common it has its own term: whaling. And, unfortunately, whaling is relatively easy when executives aren’t practicing good security hygiene (which happens often). Because leaders are often busy, spread thin, and distracted, it’s common for them to get lax on their security practices.

To reduce your company’s risk, it’s critical you create your cybersecurity strategy with these trends in mind.


How to Prevent Executive Hacking (Or Stop an Attack From Getting Worse)

Here are a few things you can do to mitigate your organization’s risk of becoming the victim of an executive hacking scheme:


  • Create Special Security Training for Executives

    As mentioned, senior executives have jam-packed schedules. And when they’re laser-focused on generating revenue, satisfying investors, leading large teams, poring over budget decisions, and making high-stakes strategic decisions, security often falls to the wayside. It’s not that these top-level decision-makers don’t care about cybersecurity — they simply don’t spend much time reflecting on it. And, in many cases, they falsely assume they’re already well-protected.

    This is why it’s helpful to create a separate operational security training program designed for executives. This training should not only be more concise, but should also focus on the high-level impact — like the financial devastation of an attack, how downtime impacts company output and brand image, and how executives, specifically, are targeted.

Cybersecurity training for executives

  • Educate All Employees on Executive Fraud

    When an employee receives a request from a senior member of the organization, they’re likely to react immediately and fulfill that request — which is why executive fraud is so successful. If you haven’t already, make sure all team members are well-educated on this type of threat. Additionally, consider updating your cybersecurity policy around email and text communications to ensure no one shares sensitive information through these channels.

    This way, if someone does receive a request for confidential data that appears to be from a member of the c-suite, employees will immediately flag it as a spear-phishing attempt.

  • Monitor the Dark Web for Leaked Data

    Of course, even with an airtight cyber strategy and plenty of education, there’s not a 100% effective method for preventing cybercrime. The number of threats is growing by the day, and companies of all sizes and industries are vulnerable. In some cases, hackers can access information without companies even realizing it until weeks or months later. By then, sensitive data has made the rounds on the dark web and fallen into plenty of the wrong hands.

    That’s where actionable threat intelligence comes in. This solution will continuously monitor the dark web for your data and alert you in real-time if there’s a match. And with HackNotice Teams, you’ll get plenty of support if you do become a victim. Plus, you’ll benefit from insights into who in your organization is following through with security protocols and who is slacking, so you know your weak points.

cybersecurity platforms for businesses

Protecting Your Company

While security training can be time-consuming and inconvenient for senior executives — it’s much more convenient than grappling with the financial and reputational damage caused by a hack or leak. As a security leader, it’s up to you to ensure every member at every level of your organization is participating in protecting against cyber threats like executive hacking. And by focusing on relevant education and monitoring, you can significantly reduce your risk factor.

Learn how you can easily protect your business with HackNotice. Contact us today.

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