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Cybercrooks increasingly target small business accounts

Fraudsters use online credentials to deplete corporate bank accounts, financial group says

August 25, 2009 06:25 PM ET

Computerworld - An organization representing more than 15,000 financial institutions has issued a warning about a growing wave of attacks against small banks and businesses by cybercriminals using stolen banking credentials to plunder corporate accounts.

In an alert to its members earlier this month, NACHA–the Electronics Payments Association said that attackers are increasingly stealing online banking credentials, such as usernames and passwords, from small businesses by using keystroke-logging tools and other malware. The cybercriminals are using the stolen credentials to "raid" and "take over" corporate accounts and initiate unauthorized transfers of funds via electronic payment networks.

NACHA oversees the Automated Clearing House (ACH) electronic payments network.

A similar alert was sent confidentially last Friday to members of the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center, according to a story published in the Washington Post yesterday. According to the Post, the alert identified organized cybercrime groups in Eastern Europe as being predominantly responsible for illegally siphoning millions of dollars off of corporate accounts and sending the money overseas via popular money and wire transfer services.

The Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center was formed by major financial services firms to share information about potential cyber and physical threats to their companies.

NACHA's alert said that the cybercrooks are apparently targeting small businesses because of their relative lack of strong authentication procedures, transaction controls and "red flag" reporting capabilities.

In some cases, the alert said, attackers trick people who work at small businesses into visiting phishing sites that have the same look and feel as those of the small businesses' financial institutions. Once they reach a phony site, the employees log in using the credentials they normally use for the legitimate site.

In other instances, keystroke loggers and data-stealing malware programs are downloaded onto corporate systems via e-mail attachments, and cybercriminals then use them to capture the usernames and passwords that employees use to log onto banking Web sites.

Some of the malware tools can send alerts to the crooks when a victim has logged onto the Web site of a financial institution. The tools then fool the user into thinking the banking site is not responding while a cyberthief quietly conducts transactions in the user's name, the alert noted.

In a "worst-case scenario" such compromises could lead to a complete takeover of a business's account, NACHA said. "To the financial institution, the credentials look just like the legitimate user," the NACHA alert said. Thus the attackers can gain access to all account details and activity. The crooks use the confidential credentials to quietly transfer funds to accounts set up by accomplices and unwitting "mules." Often, the stolen funds are ultimately sent to accounts overseas.

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