Why Kaspersky's Bank Robbery Report Should Scare Us All - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // IT Strategy
Commentary
2/18/2015
09:15 AM
Susan Nunziata
Susan Nunziata
Commentary
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Why Kaspersky’s Bank Robbery Report Should Scare Us All

So, you don't work for a financial institution? Don't think you're off the hook for the kind of theft discussed by Kaspersky. Banks are certainly not the only organizations moving around massive amounts of money every day.

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I'll be the first to admit that every time another major breach story hits the mainstream media headlines, I'm the one ready to don the tinfoil cap and return to communicating only by pen and paper. Even with that as my default setting, I found Kaspersky Lab's Great Bank Robbery Report, released Monday, to be particularly nerve-wracking.

It's not the reported $1 billion stolen or the global scale of the breach that frightens me. Nor is it the potential for the attacks to threaten the safety of my personal identity (the Anthem breach has that covered, thank you very much). No, my night terrors here are the details about who the hackers targeted in the enterprise, and how they executed their crime.

As a banking consumer, I'm grateful for the fact that the so-called Carbanak hackers found a way to siphon money out of the targeted financial institutions without actually hurting the individual account holders. As someone who lives and breathes enterprise IT, I'm horrified at the fact that their spear-phishing campaign was so successful. That's right, they gained entry into financial institutions the old-fashioned way, by sending what security blogger Brian Krebs described as malware-laced Microsoft Office attachments that targeted very specific employees.

[ Why do hackers keep winning? Read How Malware Bypasses Our Most Advanced Security Measures. ]

Targeting employees via malware is a technique that is so old it's almost laughable. Hard to believe it still works, right? It's what happened once that hackers were inside that's really scary. The malware would crawl until it found the employees who administered the cash transfer systems or the bank's ATMs.

Kaspersky Lab sums things up quite nicely in its report, "Carbanak APT: The Great Bank Robbery":

Advanced control and fraud detection systems have been used for years by the financial services industry. However, these focus on fraudulent transactions within customer accounts. The Carbanak attackers bypassed these protections by, for example, using the industry-wide funds transfer (the SWIFT) network, updating balances of account holders, and using disbursement mechanism (the ATM network.)

The report goes on to note that, rather than exploiting a vulnerability within a particular service, these attackers studied internal procedures and pinpointed who within the organizations they should impersonate in order to authorize the movement of funds.

Here's a handy explanation of how the attack worked:

(Image: Courtesy of Kaspersky Lab)

(Image: Courtesy of Kaspersky Lab)

I'm far from an expert on security. I've never even played one on TV. Those who are smarter than me may find my fears unfounded. But the thought that people pretending to be senior executives in my company could be authorizing the transfer of huge sums of money scares the bejesus out of me. And, what if the hacker impersonating my boss informs me that I should authorize the transfer of said sums? What's the company's liability? What's the employee's liability? Would we both

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Susan Nunziata leads the site's content team and contributors to guide topics, direct strategies, and pursue new ideas, all in the interest of sharing practicable insights with our community.Nunziata was most recently Director of Editorial for EnterpriseEfficiency.com, a UBM ... View Full Bio
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impactnow
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impactnow,
User Rank: Author
2/25/2015 | 11:41:44 AM
Re: Keeping up with the Hackers

Susan I completely agree. It's getting to a point that people expect breaches it's very sad. I hate to over regulate but I think if fines were levied against companies for security breaches that were a result of their negligence it might speed up security efforts at some organizations.

Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
2/20/2015 | 6:27:28 PM
Stalking the intruder
Yes, this example of sly and persistent intrusion is alarming. I think we need behavior analytics that learn from routine system ops and recognize an activity that is out of line. Once it spots such a thing, it raises an alarm or shuts it down. I also agree with TerryB. Security was such a concern on the IBM mainframe when it first came out that the MVS operating system, when asked by an application process to do something, would query, Who is  your owner? If no clear answer came back, it killed the process. With Windows, it's more like welcome the next visitor, check his credentials later.
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
2/19/2015 | 10:44:31 PM
Re: Keeping up with the Hackers
@impactnow: What will finally have to happen for corporations to invest where they need to? How big do the breaches have to get? How much damage has to be done to individuals? Or will this keep on escalating endlessly?
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
2/19/2015 | 10:41:39 PM
Re: Brian Krebs
@bwjustice: Thank you for noticing that error, it's been corrected. I am clearly living proof of how sloppy humans can be, especially when working in haste and multi-tasking. If Mr. Krebs happens to have read this, I hope he accepts my apology!

I'll be picking up SPAM Nation for my weekend reading list. And if you never hear from me again, you'll know why.

:)
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
2/19/2015 | 10:32:22 PM
Re: Why Kaspersky's Bank Robbery Report Should Scare Us All
@Zerox203: As the Anthem breach also showed, it all comes down to how these organizations make money. Anthem didn't encrypt its data because it wasn't required to do so by law. The cost, or inconvenicence, of encryption was enough of a deterrent for them, because they faced no hefty fines if they didn't do it. Like banks, health insurance providers are for-profit organizations whose main goal is to keep their shareholders happy.

That said, you make a good point about playing the odds and finding the right balance between investing in prevention and leaving yourself open to a breach. In the case of what the Kaspersky report revealed, though, it's hard to believe that patch updating would have impacted the bototm line of the banks involved. It seems a bigger issue -- not enough employees in IT? sloppy governance -- than just an accouting problem.
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
2/19/2015 | 10:25:56 PM
Re: Fun with security
@macker490: So what's the deal then? Is it just more cost effective for corporations to allow themselves to get hacked like this than to invest in the resources required to protect themselves? Are they so well covered by insurance policies, and making so much $$, that even this level of money walking out the door is small change to them?
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
User Rank: Strategist
2/19/2015 | 10:23:02 PM
Re: Fun with security
@Stratustician: What perplexes me most is how corporations of such size and scope can have such a hard time keeping one step ahead of bad actors. I suspect, more than anything, that the problem is one of deciding where to invest $$--in security & trainng, or in stockholder pockets. Until the equation shifts and breaches become so crippling that they affect stockholder dividends, I suspect we'll just see attacks like this becoming so commonplace they won't even scare us anymore.
impactnow
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impactnow,
User Rank: Author
2/19/2015 | 11:35:14 AM
Keeping up with the Hackers

Susan yes very scary and it makes the point for multiple levels of authorization required when money is moves in large quantities and tracking of actions as related to money movement. The vulnerabilities still exist in so many places its type for cyber security to start catching up with the hackers.

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