Risk Insider: Greg Bangs

Cyber Gang Vigilance

By: | June 29, 2016 • 2 min read
Gregory W. Bangs is chief underwriting officer of global crime at XL Catlin. Over the last 30 years, he’s been underwriting insurance and developing new products in the U.S., U.K., Hong Kong and France. He can be reached at [email protected]

The Bank of Bangladesh didn’t know what hit it. More than $80 million vanished before anyone even noticed last February. The good news is that the criminals did not accomplish what they initially set out to do – steal nearly $1 billion from the bank’s account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The hackers, however, did succeed in installing malware in the Bangladesh central bank’s computer systems. Then they watched, probably for weeks.

They observed how to go about withdrawing money from the bank’s U.S. account, using its credentials for the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) messaging system.

SWIFT is used by banks around the world along with other financial institutions like brokerages, securities dealers, asset management companies, and others, for secure financial communication.

If an email’s subject line is so tempting that you can’t resist opening it, you probably shouldn’t.

Bangladesh’s central bank was not alone; the same crooks took $12 million from an Ecuadorean lender in January 2015. Fortunately, another attack trying to steal about $1 million from a Vietnamese bank late last year was thwarted.

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In all of these incidents, the perpetrators got access to the codes the banks use to connect to the SWIFT global payments network to request fund transfers that were directed elsewhere and then quickly disappear.

All indicators are pointing to one prime culprit – Dridex, a notorious gang of cyber criminals operating in Russia and former parts of Eastern Europe.

Dridex is a disciplined, highly organized gang that operates very much like any other company, following a Monday-to-Friday work week. During those working hours, it sends millions of phishing emails, managing to infect an average of 3,000 to 5,000 computers a day with its malware, also known as Dridex.

Once released, the malware lurks on a user’s computer, watching everything he or she does, waiting for some online banking activity, at which time it uses keystroke logging or web injections to steal the necessary user name and password so that it can carry out its own transactions later on.

These incidents are prompting central banks worldwide, as well as other businesses, to beef up security. After all, some security firms are already reporting that Dridex recently stepped up its attacks and added ransomware to its inventory. Most predict financial institutions will not be the prime target for long.

In addition to conducting regular audits and building strong information security awareness protocols, businesses, no matter what industry, are wise to reinforce some simple, yet vital, messages to all colleagues:

Delete any suspicious-looking emails and be wary of attachments: To unleash malware, hackers are smart enough to disguise attacks as generically worded messages such as, “Please look this over and get back to me by end of day.”

If it’s too good to be true, don’t look. If an email’s subject line is so tempting that you can’t resist opening it, you probably shouldn’t.

Working with their information security and technology teams, as well as many others, risk managers can play an integral role in driving online vigilance throughout their organizations.

Adopting the gang-style approach of the cyber criminals, risk managers can coordinate multiple disciplinary roles throughout the organization to fight cyber gangs’ crime games.

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