As part of an effort to raise public awareness of the increasing threat cyber criminals pose to America's business community, the FBI issued a public service announcement Tuesday highlighting email scams that have cost businesses worldwide more than $3 billion over the last two and a half years.
The scammers target businesses that regularly perform wire transfer payments by compromising their business email accounts through social engineering or by hacking into their computers, the FBI says.
In some cases, cyber criminals will hack into the emails of company executives and use those email accounts to request employees' personal information from the company's human resources department.
In other cases, cyber thieves pose as an attorney or vendor used by the company to request a transfer of funds. They send a spoof email using an email address that appears similar to the legitimate accounts.
According to the FBI, more than 22,000 companies around the world have reported their email accounts compromised since January 2013, resulting in unauthorized transfers of billions of dollars, mostly going to banks in China and Hong Kong.
At Tuesday's announcement, the FBI also discussed recent increases in the use of ransomware, in which cyber thieves install malware that encrypts all files on a computer network until a ransom is paid by the victim company, and the increased vulnerability of U.S. critical infrastructure, which was hacked 295 times in 2015, up from 39 times two years earlier.
The head of the FBI's Cyber Task Force in New York, Aristedes Mahairas, identified China, Russia, North Korea and Iran as the leading sponsors of the state-sponsored cyber crime.
Mahairas said that in addition to investigating cyber crimes, the FBI Cyber Task Force is educating and partnering with the private sector to address the burgeoning cyber crime problem.
Mahairas said victims of cyber criminals can report suspicious activity to the FBI Cyber Task Force at (212) 384-1000 or at www.IC3.gov.