Financial Malware: Bank Robbery, 2013 Style

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If you paid a casual visit to the NBC website on Feb. 21, you likely got a little something extra with your info or funny video—computer malware designed to steal Online Banking credentials (see here and here). Welcome to the new world of bank robbery. Thankfully, there are ways to protect yourself.

Sophisticated criminals no longer wear masks and pass menacing notes to tellers. No, today’s bank robber simply infects a website with malware, then waits for users to become infected and log in to Online Banking on their own. The hidden malware on the user’s infected computer quietly passes the Online Banking login information back to the criminal, or in more sophisticated attacks, allows the criminal to highjack your session while you are still logged in. Later you may notice that money was sent to an unknown person or business using person-to-person payments or even Bill Pay.

I suspect that most of you will have one of two responses:

“My computer can get infected just by visiting a website?”

or

“I have antivirus software on my computer so shouldn’t I be safe?”

The answers to those questions are “yes” and “don’t be so sure.” Antivirus programs have been around for a long time and do serve a valuable purpose. They were created when file sharing meant trading files or programs on floppy disks, and the Internet was something people used only from research labs or universities. Now with computers everywhere connected to the Internet and users connected to each other through email and social media, antivirus programs have trouble keeping up.

The problem is malware creators can modify software daily or hourly, making it impossible for the antivirus vendors to keep up. The unfortunate truth is a fully updated antivirus program is only going to detect password stealing and remote control malware around 25 percent of the time. So if your antivirus program is your only line of defense, you may be in trouble. In 2012, about 30 percent of personal computers were infected with some sort of malware.

The attack on the NBC website is sometimes called “drive-by” hacking. In this situation, a legitimate website is hacked and malicious code is inserted into the site. Or sometimes, they’ll set up their own site and drive traffic to it. This can be in the form of an email message promising a great deal or candid pictures of your favorite celebrities. If they’ve done a little extra work, they can deliver their message using Twitter or Facebook. But regardless of how they get you to the infected website, once you get there, the criminals can push malicious programs to your computer without you knowing it.

The big question you probably have now is, “How do I protect myself?”

Tim Grove, vice president of systems development, has been with EECU Credit Union’s information technology team since 1999, and is responsible for the programming and development of EECU’s website as well as all online and mobile services. Tim holds an undergrad degree in marketing from Oklahoma Christian University as well as an MBA from the University of Texas at Arlington, and has served marketing and IT teams at companies including Canon, EDS and Halliburton.

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