Experts have told us that the best way to protect ourselves from an online financial scam is to diligently check our bank accounts. Unfortunately, this no longer provides any guarantees, because what you may be seeing on your screen may be an illusion.
Israeli-based Security firm Trusteer has found an elaborate new computer virus that not only helps fraudsters steal money from bank accounts — it also covers its tracks.
Think of a crime plot involving a spy who plans to break into a high-security building and begins by swapping out security camera video so guards don’t notice anything is amiss. This is known as a surveillance camera hack and the technique has been used in dozens of movies.
A new version of the widely prevalent SpyEye Trojan horse works much the same way, only it swaps out banking Web pages rather than video, preventing account holders from noticing that their money is gone.
The Trojan horse utilizes a powerful two-step process to commit the electronic crime. First, the virus lies in wait until a customer with an infected computer visits an online banking site, steals their login credentials and tricks the victim into divulging additional personal information such as debit card information. Then, after the stolen card number is used for a fraudulent purchase, the virus intercepts any further visits to the victim’s banking site and scrubs transaction records clean of any fraud. That prevents — or at least delays — consumers from discovering fraud and reporting it to the bank, buying the fraudster critical extra time to complete the crime.
Trusteer calls it a “post transaction” attack, because much of the virus’ effectiveness is attributable to its ability to control what victims see after fraudulent transactions occur. Chief technology officer for Trusteer, Amit Klein, said he believes criminals have used the technique for a few months and it has infected real consumers.
“I predict that the use of post transaction attack technology will significantly increase as it enables criminals to maximize the amount of fraud they can commit using their initial investment in malware toolkits and infection mechanisms,” Klein said.
The new SpyEye came to Trusteer’s attention when a large retail bank in the United States spotted it and shared with the firm, he said.
This latest hacking method is very scary. The virus’ evidence-covering techniques are elaborate. First, it keeps track of all fraud committed by the criminal and makes sure to remove those line items from online transaction lists. It also edits balance amounts to prevent consumers from getting suspicious.
“Most banks ‘let the first transaction through,’ because if they stopped everything that was potentially fraud, consumers would get annoyed” says Avivah Litan, a financial fraud analyst at consulting firm Gartner. This version of SpyEye could buy criminals important time as they try to turn stolen data into cash.
Cover-your-tracks techniques have been used before by virus writers, Klein said. In a simpler version, criminals who raided online bank accounts and wired money out of them would try to hide the transaction from victims using the same Web page interception trick. But this new twist has more potential for success, because it involves stolen debit card numbers used at third-party merchants, creating complex transactions involving multiple banks and multiple security systems.
Victim account holders who check their balance at an ATM — or even at a second uninfected computer — would be able to spot the fraudulent transactions. The virus doesn’t impact bank systems, merely the characters that are displayed within the infected system’s Web browser. That means paper statements would reveal the fraud too.
If you become a victim to this type of crime, you may want evidence and need help.
MSI Detective Services performs Debugging Services where they can detect and remove viruses, Trojan horses, spyware, etc., from your computer. MSI Detective Services is also skilled at conducting computer forensic investigations.
One more piece of advice…if you are using your online banking system and are asked to disclose information you have never been asked to disclose before, e.g., your debit card number – STOP! Call your bank immediately and ask questions.