Trustwave’s Nicolas Percoco wrote an interesting article at describing a targeted attack at a senior executive. Who’dathunk sites catering to board members (and other mahogany row folks) would publish stuff from security folks. Oh, how the times have changed, eh?

Let’s dissect this attack starting from before you received the email early this morning. One of your competitors hired a hacker to obtain business plans, financial statements, price lists, etc. from your company. This activity is known as corporate espionage and has been going on since businesses started competing, just not in the same way it is happening today – through the click of a mouse.

The post runs through a plausible scenario. Targeted email from a spoofed account. Zero-day attack in the attachment. Total compromise and full access to the entire filesystem, allowing the theft of pretty much anything. Yup.

When you opened that resume, the Zero Day exploited a problem in your document reader. It installed a custom piece of malware written by the hacker that scoured your computer for the types of documents he was being paid to steal. Once the malware gathered those files, it then sent them over the Internet to the hacker’s system.

Of course the language is overly simplistic – it needs to be. This type of piece is for executive readers, who don’t understand Adobe exploits, egress filtering, or advanced malware. But the here tends to get lost in day-to-day security firefighting. You must spend time educating executives on these kinds of attacks. You also need to implement controls that more highly value the devices they use, and protect them accordingly in light of their extensive access to important things.

The post ends with a number of high-level suggestions. Start with email security and then monitor for unusual activity. Ensure the devices of executives are updated. Yup, yup, and yup. But even these high-level recommendations will be over the heads of many executives. This kind of piece is more about making sure that, when security comes in and demands behavioral changes and additional protections that impair the executive user experience, executives are receptive. Or perhaps not receptive – but at least they understand why it is important.

Photo credit: “CEO – Tiare – Board Meeting – Franklin Canyon” originally uploaded by tiarescott