Home Security Attackers steal US$40m from banks using multi-pronged technique

Attackers steal US$40m from banks using multi-pronged technique

Attackers have stolen more than US$40 million from a number of banks in Russia and eastern Europe using a multi-pronged technique, according to the security firm Trustwave.

The company's SpiderLabs unit said mules first opened accounts at a target bank using fake IDs, after which attackers gained access to the bank's network, manipulated the overdraft limits and disabled fraud alerts.

When access to the bank's network was at the desired level, the attackers co-ordinated with the mules who then withdrew money from ATMs on a single day or across multiple days. The mules operated in a number of countries.

Most of the withdrawals were made soon after the overdraft limits were altered, Trustwave said in a detailed report.

From the bank's network, the attackers piggybacked into the network of the third-party processor used by the bank where they compromised the account of the administrator. This gave them access to all areas and enabled them to do what they wanted to.

bank heist

The bank's IT staff were delayed in finding out about the thievery as the attackers used malware to destroy the master boot record of the PCs they had gained access to, making the machines unbootable.

The report was authored by Trustwave's EMEA managing consultant for incident response Thanassis Diogos and EMEA incident response consultant Sachin Deodhar.

"We believe that the attack described in this report represents a clear and imminent threat to financial institutions in European, North American, Asian and Australian regions within the next year," the pair said.

"Currently the attacks are localised to the eastern European and Russian regions. However, in cyber crime, this area is often the canary in the mineshaft for upcoming threats to other parts of the world."

Diogos and Deodhar said it did not appear that any data had been exfiltrated from the bank, with the hackers' sole purpose in gaining access being to engineer the theft and then disappear.

"When we obtained a copy of the system for analysis we found it was unbootable and the file system was corrupt," the pair said. "However, the Trustwave team was able to reconstruct the partition table and analyse the file system enabling collection and analysis of significant evidence from this key system.

"One of them was called dropper.exe and upon execution its main function was to wipe the Master Boot Record on the hard disk, effectively destroying the system for any future use. This was the last recorded action taken by the attackers before leaving the network. They
appeared to truly care about clearing any remaining tracks of their activity that may have been left behind."

Graphic: courtesy Trustwave SpiderLabs

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.