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Senior Editor, Network World

Cybercrime attacks on business bank accounts are dropping

Jan 10, 20133 mins
CybercrimeData and Information SecurityLegal

Attacks by cybercriminals to steal funds electronically from commercial bank accounts appear to be less successful of late than in previous years, according to a survey of 100 large and small financial institutions.

In the first half of 2012, there were an estimated 2.11 cyberattacks per 1,000 commercial banking customers in which cybercriminals managed to compromise computers used for electronic bank transfers, according to the results of the survey undertaken by the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center (FS-ISAC). That’s less than the 3.42 cyberattacks per 1,000 commercial customers that was the average in 2011.

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More good news this time around is that only 9% of these cyberattacks on bank accounts in the first half of 2012 were actually completely successful for the cybercriminals who actually stole money out of them. That’s down from the 70% success rate in getting money out of financial accounts that was seen in 2009 and the 12% rate in 2011 when the same type of survey was done.

Bill Nelson, president and CEO of FS-ISAC, cautions this is simply a statistical sampling of 100 banks willing to share their experiences with FS-ISAC, which was established in 1999 to interact with the U.S. government on critical-infrastructure security issues. But he says the latest FS-ISAC survey on account takeovers does appear to be a positive sign that financial institutions and their commercial-account customers are managing to more effectively ward off cyberattacks aimed at emptying funds out of accounts.

“Fraud-detection is improving,” he says, pointing out that the survey also shows banks indicated that “customer education” and “shutting down customers’ online access to commercial system once anomalous activity is detected” are seen as part of an overall strategy at many banks to stop this type of hijacking of computers to steal funds. Many banks now advise businesses to use dedicated computers for fund transfers and install various types of anti-malware on them.

While a number of different automated fraud-detection methods were reported to be used by banks, such as “analysis of customer login characteristics and patterns” and “interrogation of customer http session to detect anomalous traffic,” the survey shows at many banks there also appears to be an important role for manual procedures to review all ACH and wire transactions above a specific dollar amount.

Nelson says in 2011 banks were known to have lost $64 million through commercial bank account takeovers, and the 2012 numbers are expected to be made available shortly.

Criminals typically go about cyberattacks by installing banking-specific malware, such as the Zeus Trojan, on the victim’s computer to hijack it in order to remotely initiate a fraudulent funds transfer, typically through wire transfers, Nelson points out. Banks are getting more adept in preventing these fraudulent transfers from actually being completed, but there remains a significant amount of difficulty in retrieving stolen funds on behalf of the business that was victimized.

“When it goes to the receiving bank, you may get the money back, but it’s a hit and miss type of thing,” Nelson concludes.

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG publication and website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: @MessmerE. Email:

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