Lost in the annals of campy commercials from the 1980s is a series of ads that featured improbable scenes between two young people (usually of the opposite sex) who somehow caused the inadvertent collision of peanut butter and chocolate. After the mishap, one would complain, “Hey you got your chocolate in my peanut butter!,” and the other would retort, “You got your peanut butter in my chocolate!” The youngsters then sample the product of their happy accident and are amazed to find someone has already combined the two flavors into a sweet and salty treat that is commercially available.
It may be that the Internet security industry is long overdue for its own “Reese’s moment.” Many security experts who got their start analyzing malware and tracking traditional cybercrime recently have transitioned to investigating malware and attacks associated with so-called advanced persistent threat (APT) incidents. The former centers on the theft of financial data that can be used to quickly extract cash from victims; the latter refers to often prolonged attacks involving a hunt for more strategic information, such as intellectual property, trade secrets and data related to national security and defense.
Recent ebanking heists — such as a $121,000 online robbery at a New York fuel supplier last month — suggest that cyber thieves increasingly are cashing out by sending victim funds to prepaid debit card accounts. The shift appears to be an effort to route around a major bottleneck for these crimes: Their dependency on unreliable money mules.
Mules traditionally have played a key role in helping thieves cash out hacked accounts and launder money. They are recruited through email-based work-at-home job scams, and are told they will be helping companies process payments. In a typical scheme, the mule provides her banking details to the recruiter, who eventually sends a fraudulent transfer and tells the mule to withdraw the funds in cash, keep a small percentage, and wire the remainder to co-conspirators abroad.
Last week was a bad one to be a cybercrook. Authorities in Russia arrested several men thought to be behind the Carberp banking Trojan, and obtained a verdict of guilty against the infamous spammer Leo Kuvayev. In the United States, a jury returned a 33-month jail sentence against a Belarusian who ran a call service for cyber thieves. At the same time, U.S. prosecutors secured a guilty plea against a Russian man who was part of a gang that stole more than $3 million from U.S. businesses fleeced with the help of the ZeuS Trojan.
Underground hacker forums are full of complaints from users angry that a developer of some popular banking Trojan or bot program has stopped supporting his product, stranding buyers with buggy botnets. Now, the proprietors of a new ZeuS Trojan variant are marketing their malware as the first offering that lets customers file bug reports, suggest and vote on new features in upcoming versions, and track trouble tickets that can be worked on by the developers and fellow users alike.
The FBI is warning that computer crooks have begun launching debilitating cyber attacks against banks and their customers as part of a smoke screen to detract attention away from simultaneous high-dollar cyber heists.
The bureau says the attacks coincide with corporate account takeovers perpetrated by thieves who are using a modified version of the ZeuS Trojan that’s being called “Gameover.” The thefts come after a series of heavy spam campaigns aimed at deploying the malware, which arrives disguised as an email from the National Automated Clearing House Association (NACHA), a not-for-profit group that develops operating rules for organizations that handle electronic payments. The ZeuS variant steals passwords and gives attackers direct access to the victim’s PC and network.
A title insurance firm in Virginia is suing its bank after an eight-day cyber heist involving more than $2 million in thefts and more than $200,000 in losses last year. In an unusual twist, at least some of the Eastern European thieves involved in the attack have already been convicted and imprisoned for their roles in the crime.
A California real estate escrow company that lost more than $465,000 in an online banking heist last year is suing its former financial institution, alleging that the bank was negligent and that it failed to live up to the terms of its own online banking contract.
The plight of Redondo Beach, Calif. based Village View Escrow, first publicized by KrebsOnSecurity last summer, began in March 2010. That’s when organized crooks broke into the firm’s computers and bank accounts, and sent 26 consecutive wire transfers to 20 individuals around the world who had no legitimate business with the firm.
Criminals have developed a component of the ZeuS Trojan designed to run on Google Android phones. The new strain of malware comes as security experts are warning about the threat from mobile malware that may use tainted ads and drive-by downloads.
Researchers at Fortinet said the malicious file is a new version of “Zitmo,” a family of mobile malware first spotted last year that stands for “ZeuS in the mobile.” The Zitmo variant, disguised as a security application, is designed to intercept the one-time passcodes that banks send to mobile users as an added security feature. It masquerades as a component of Rapport, a banking activation application from Trusteer. Once installed, the malware lies in wait for incoming text messages, and forwards them to a remote Web server.
Federal banking regulators today released a long-awaited supplement to the 2005 guidelines that describe what banks should be doing to protect e-banking customers from hackers and account takeovers. Experts called the updated guidance a step forward, but were divided over whether it would be adequate to protect small to mid-sized businesses against today’s sophisticated online attackers.
The new guidance updates “Authentication in an Internet Banking Environment,” a document released in 2005 by the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) for use by bank security examiners. The 2005 guidance has been criticized for being increasingly irrelevant in the face of current threats like the password-stealing ZeuS Trojan, which can defeat many traditional customer-facing online banking authentication and security measures. The financial industry has been expecting the update since December 2010, when a draft version of the guidelines was accidentally leaked.
The document released today (PDF) recognizes the need to protect customers from newer threats, but stops short of endorsing any specific technology or approach. Instead, it calls on banks to conduct more rigorous risk assessments, to monitor customer transactions for suspicious activity, and to work harder to educate customers — particularly businesses — about the risks involved in banking online.
Computer crooks stole at least $139,000 from the town coffers of Pittsford, New York this week. The theft is the latest reminder of the widening gap between the sophistication of organized cyber thieves and the increasingly ineffective security measures employed by many financial institutions across the United States.
The attack began on or around June 1, 2011, when someone logged into the online commercial banking account of the Town of Pittsford, a municipality of 25,000 not far from Rochester, N.Y. The thieves initiated a small batch of automated clearing house (ACH) transfers to several money mules, willing or unwitting individuals in the U.S.A. who had been recruited by the attackers prior to the theft. The mules pulled the money out of their bank accounts in cash and wired it to individuals in Saint Petersburg, Russia and Kiev, Ukraine via transfer services Western Union and Moneygram.