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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yalanand
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yalanand,
User Rank: Ninja
2/22/2015 | 12:53:45 PM
Re: Stalking the intruder
With Windows, it's more like welcome the next visitor, check his credentials later.


Windows Firewall is a terrible example of how a company can waste millions of dollars of resources for a design that is not even remotely beneficial.
yalanand
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yalanand,
User Rank: Ninja
2/22/2015 | 12:52:11 PM
Re: Putin's Kaspersky
Kaspersky Lab might identify these things, but I am sure they take up on that idea, improve it, and pass it on to the Russian government.

I believe you should provide some facts or evidence of such bold statement.


I believe there is a backdoor whistle blower to every company that leaks out data to other fences of government, be it knowingly or unknowingly. 
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
2/22/2015 | 1:15:51 AM
Re: Putin's Kaspersky
Kaspersky Lab might identify these things, but I am sure they take up on that idea, improve it, and pass it on to the Russian government.

I believe you should provide some facts or evidence of such bold statement.
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.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
2/20/2015 | 2:32:46 PM
Not ready for prime time
It just amazes me that there is no backlash yet on using Windows and Linux in business. The level of corruption which can be applied on the core o/s is beyond belief. You can't do that stuff to IBM mainframes or the IBM i5 server my company uses.

I know people love to argue that if Windows/Linux patched and locked down correctly, this stuff won't happen. But the fact a running o/s can be corrupted for any reason means the design is fundamentally flawed in the first place. I read the detailed report Susan referenced in article, that malware was changing stuff in a context that shouldn't have been allowed if it was using God's crendentials.

For example, I'm a full admin on my IBM i5 server. But under no circumstances can I touch what IBM calls the LIC (Licensed Internal Code) or directly manipulate memory. They have a level of abstraction between the commands I can use and that code which touches the physical resources of the hardware. Obviously Windows and Linux could use a little of that type of foresight.
Stratustician
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Stratustician,
User Rank: Ninja
2/20/2015 | 10:05:47 AM
Re: Putin's Kaspersky
@moarsauce123 I don't know how much truth there is to that.  Kaspersky Lab is actually incorporated in the UK, despite having lots of Russian employees, they do lots of work with huge government agencies such as Interpol and Europol. Do they have lots of employees in Russia, ofcourse considering if you look at where a large pool of employees with the right skillsets for researching threats it makes sense to have folks from there.  Just like we see Israeli and US based security companies with high ratios of employees based in those areas.  But the fact that they are putting out public information about "here are the risks" and not pinning it to specific entities like other news outlets have done or that would be an easy way to shift blame to other governments, shows a bit about the character of the company.

With that logic, what if Trend Micro or McAfee had released the same info.  Would it be viewed the same way?

Just my 2 cents.
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
2/20/2015 | 7:31:10 AM
Putin's Kaspersky
What scares me most is that these reports come from Kaspersky. Mr. Kaspersky is a far too close friend of Mr. Putin and anything that comes out of Kaspersky Labs should not be taken with just a grain of salt, but a full truckload of road salt. Kaspersky Lab might identify these things, but I am sure they take up on that idea, improve it, and pass it on to the Russian government.
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.
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