Cyber Criminals Exploit Network Access and Privilege Escalation Cyber Criminals Exploit Network Access and Privilege Escalation


Cyber criminals are focusing their operations to target employees of companies worldwide who maintain network access and an ability to escalate network privilege. During COVID-19 shelter-in-place and social distancing orders, many companies had to quickly adapt to changing environments and technology. With these restrictions, network access and privilege escalation may not be fully monitored. As more tools to automate services are implemented on companies’ networks, theability to keep track of who has access to different points on the network, and what type of access they have,will become more difficultto regulate.



Cyber criminals have changed techniques and tactics when compromising employee accounts or credentials. Cyber criminals aretrying to obtain all employees’ credentials,not just individuals who would likely have more access based on their corporate position. According to FBI case information, as of December 2019, cyber criminals collaborated to target both US-based and international-based employees’at large companiesusing social engineering techniques. The cyber criminals vished these employees through the use of VoIP platforms. Vishing attacks are voice phishing, which occurs during a phone call to users of VoIP platforms. During the phone calls, employees were tricked into logging into aphishing webpage in order to capture the employee’s username and password. After gaining access to the network, many cyber criminals found they had greater network access, including the ability to escalate privileges of the compromised employees’ accounts, thus allowing them to gain further access into the network often causing significant financial damage.

In one instance, the cyber criminals found an employee via the company’s chatroom, and convinced the individualto log into the fake VPN pageoperated by the cyber criminals. The actors used these credentials to log into the company’s VPN and performed reconnaissance to locate someone with higher privileges. The cyber criminals were looking for employeeswho could perform username and e-mail changes and found an employee through a cloud-based payroll service. The cyber criminals useda chatroom messaging service to contact and phishthis employee’s login credentials.

Recommended Mitigations

  • Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) for accessing employees’ accounts in order to minimize the chances of an initial compromise.
  • When new employees are hired, network access should be granted on a least privilege scale. Periodic review of this network access for all employees can significantly reduce the risk of compromise of vulnerable and/or weak spots within the network.
  • Actively scanning and monitoring for unauthorized access or modifications can help detect a possible compromise in order to prevent or minimize the loss of data.
  • Network segmentation should be implemented to break up one large network into multiple smaller networks which allows administrators to control the flow of network traffic.
  • Administrators should be issued two accounts: one account with admin privileges to make system changes and the other account used for email, deploying updates, and generating reports.


Reporting Notice

The FBI encourages recipients of this document to report information concerning suspicious or criminal activity to their local FBI field office. Field office contacts can be identified at When available, each report submitted should include the date, time, location, type of activity, number of people, and type of equipment used for the activity, the name of the submitting company or organization, and a designated point of contact.

Administrative Note

This product is marked TLP:WHITE. Subject to standard copyright rules, TLP:WHITE information may be distributed without restriction.

For comments or questions related to the content or dissemination of this product, contact your local FBI field office.