Get The Latest Insights

By Jessica Ellis | June 2, 2022

Impersonations of brands and executives on social media have grown more than 300% and 250% year-over-year, respectively, according to the Agari and PhishLabs Quarterly Threat Trends & Intelligence Report. This highlights the overall increase in social media activity and ease of accessibility for bad actors to repurpose stolen trademarks and intellectual property (IP) for a variety of malicious activities, including spreading misinformation and promoting counterfeit products. Actors abuse this material to launch attacks on unsuspecting consumers by creating pages, posts, and other content that are nearly identical to legitimate corporate imagery and messaging.

Every quarter, Agari and PhishLabs analyze hundreds of thousands of phishing and social media attacks targeting enterprises, their brands, and their employees. In this post, we discuss impersonation attacks on social media targeting enterprises. An impersonation attack on social media is any incident, including a purposeful spoof of a corporate brand, executive, or employee, with intent to sway opinion or fool victims into performing an action.

Brand Impersonation

Over the last 12 months, impersonation attacks specifically targeting brands have increased 339%, contributing to a whopping 32% of share of all social media attacks encountered.

Social media has established itself as an incredibly powerful advertising tool for businesses and malicious actors alike, capitalizing on the millions of users who use social platforms to shop. More than 90% of businesses use social media in some capacity to increase brand awareness and engage with users. The top social platforms boast a presence of more than 200 million businesses alone, each one building a digital footprint with images, content, and trademarks.

This intellectual property can easily be repurposed for malicious intent on social media by creating fake pages that impersonate a brand’s legitimate account and publishing ads that redirect victims to counterfeit websites. Advertisements and links appear real, giving the consumer no reason to suspect a threat. In particular, the retail industry has seen a considerable increase in attacks on social media during Q1 as a result of fake ads.

Fake Ad Impersonating a Brand on Social Media
Fake Social Media Account Impersonating a Large Financial Institution

Executive Impersonation

Threats impersonating executives have increased more than 273% since Q2 2021, when they contributed to only 3.9% of the share of all social media attacks. In Q1 2022, Executive Impersonation represented 14.1% of all social media attacks.

A strong executive presence on social media can build trust with users, create a direct line of communication, and give the appearance of transparency from the top down. However, a negative executive experience on social media may provoke backlash. Threat actors masquerading as a C-Suite executive have the power to influence consumer opinion, mislead, and make false predictions that can negatively impact a legitimate business.

Bad actors can target executives by building a fake account with a photo, quote, or simply by using their name. Below are examples of Executive Impersonation on social media.

Social Media Page Impersonating an Executive
Social Media Account Impersonating an Executive

More than half of the world’s population actively engages on social media, and the consequences of an attack delivered via one of these platforms may be swift and damaging. As actors increasingly use impersonation to target brands and executives, it is critical security teams prioritize strong relationships with social media providers that will enable swift identification and takedown of social media threats.

To learn more, download the Agari and PhishLabs Quarterly Threat Trends & Intelligence Report (MAY).