Cyber security training firm SANS Institute suffers data breach

US-based firm said 28,000 records were lost after one of its employees fell for 'consent phishing'

A US-based cyber security training company has said a phishing attack against one of its employees resulted in 513 emails being forwarded to an unknown external account.

The SANS Institute, which is based in Maryland, said that personal information, including names, work titles, and professional contact information, was contained in the emails, but that no financial or password data had been lost.

Upon a routine investigation of its email configuration, researchers spotted a suspicious forwarding rule that was directing emails from an internal account to an external source. The company, which specialises in information security, cyber security training and certification, said further investigation revealed that a phishing attack against an employee had led to approximately 28,000 records being shared with this external address.

Although the SANS Institute claims that the majority of the 513 emails were "harmless", it did say that some contained personally identifiable information.

An investigation into the incident is still ongoing, but SANS has attributed the hack to "consent phishing", a variant of an application-based attack. Victims are tricked into providing malicious Office 365 OAuth applications access to their Office 365 accounts. Once compromised, the attackers can obtain access to emails, files, contacts, notes, profiles, as well as sensitive information and resources stored on their SharePoint and OneDrive systems.

Related Resource

IT Pro 20/20: A quantum leap for security

The sixth issue of IT Pro 20/20 looks at the state of cyber security in 2020 and beyond


The data taken from SANS included email addresses, work titles, first and last names, company contact details and physical address. The firm said it has identified the people whose accounts were compromised and will be contacting them by email, but it stressed that no passwords or financial data were acessed in the attack.

"Phishing scams remain extremely common and this latest breach shows that cyber criminals are not even afraid of cyber security institutes when targeting organisations," said ESET cyber security specialist, Jake Moore. "Verifying authentic emails has never been more important but remains your best bet in beating the fraudsters. Companies that don't have the proper security procedures in place can often leave themselves and their customers vulnerable to a social engineering attack but constant delivery of training is vital to make people continually aware of the problem. Companies must limit the number of employees who have access to private information to reduce the possibility of a breach as well."

Featured Resources

Managing security risk and compliance in a challenging landscape

How key technology partners grow with your organisation

Download now

Evaluate your order-to-cash process

15 recommended metrics to benchmark your O2C operations

Download now

AI 360: Hold, fold, or double down?

How AI can benefit your business

Download now

Getting started with Azure Red Hat OpenShift

A developer’s guide to improving application building and deployment capabilities

Download now

Most Popular

Citrix buys Slack competitor Wrike in record $2.25bn deal

Citrix buys Slack competitor Wrike in record $2.25bn deal

19 Jan 2021
How to recover deleted emails in Gmail
email delivery

How to recover deleted emails in Gmail

6 Jan 2021
SolarWinds hackers hit Malwarebytes through Microsoft exploit

SolarWinds hackers hit Malwarebytes through Microsoft exploit

20 Jan 2021