• Kyodo

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Japan’s information technology agency has detailed a new cybercrime aiming to swindle businesses out of money via emails that appear to have been sent from partner companies, sources said Sunday.

The Information-Technology Promotion Agency looked into four cases in which domestic companies’ email systems were compromised, a threat that has emerged on a global scale. Money was stolen in two cases, although the agency withheld the amount and name of the companies.

According to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, about 22,000 such cases were reported in the United States and elsewhere between October 2013 and June 2016, causing a combined loss of about $3.1 billion. The average amount stolen in each case was approximately ¥16 million.

The FBI defines the scheme as a payment fraud that involves the compromise of legitimate business email accounts, including those belonging to a chief executive officer, for the purpose of conducting unauthorized wire transfers.

After compromising a company’s email account — usually through manipulation of an individual or malware — the criminals are then able to send wire transfer instructions using the victim’s or a fake email account.

In the Japanese cases, the agency found that companies’ email communications were probably intercepted by hackers. Some email scams originated from an address almost identical to the legitimate one, except for having one letter removed or replaced.

The agency conducted an analysis based on information provided by businesses taking part in a seven-industry information-sharing initiative that includes critical infrastructure such as electricity and gas with the aim of countering cyberattacks on those sectors.

All four cases were related to business deals involving foreign companies and the emails requesting the fraudulent money transfers were all written in English.

In one case, a hacker sent an email noting a change in the account to which money should be sent after legitimate exchanges between Japanese and U.S. companies reached a final stage. But the Japanese company noticed an irregularity and canceled the transfer.

The agency plans to release a report about cases involving the scheme in the near future, the sources said.

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