05:00 PM
Connect Directly

Banks Targeted By Hackers Three Times More Than Other Sectors

Active targeted attacks on financial services firms in quest for lucrative data -- and of course, money.

Financial services organizations--traditionally some of the best-fortified against cyber attacks--see three times as many attack attempts by cybercriminals than other industries do, a new study by Raytheon/Websense shows.

The findings, based on real-world targeted attack attempts on Raytheon/Websense customers in the financial and other sectors, also highlight how cybercriminals are upping their game in attacks targeting financial organizations. Among the tricks they're using to try to bypass security at banks: code obfuscation, redirected code, and code injection, says Carl Leonard, principal security analyst for Websense Security Labs, who notes that his team intercepts data-theft incidents but not distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack attempts.

"We’re seeing attacks against the banks for client information, PII [personally identifiable information], entire credit histories, and money," Leonard says.

"We've been working with financial services clients for many years, and know the extent of effort they put into securing" their environments, he says. "Malware authors are trying a lot of techniques against financial services" to infiltrate those defenses, he says.

The financial services industry is considered the gold standard for security as one of the early adopters of the newest security technologies, and with one of the most active cyber threat intelligence-sharing organizations, the FS-ISAC. Regulatory pressure indeed has been a major factor in its maturity in security, but that hasn't stopped money-hungry cybercriminals from continuing to hack away at banks and financial firm's defenses.

Banks are well-aware that their security measures aren't deterring the bad guys. A recent survey by the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation (DTCC) found that almost half of financial firms consider cyber security the biggest risk to the overall economy. 

Cybercriminals and nation-states are now regularly performing reconnaissance to find employees within financial firms to target, as well as to probe for vulnerabilities via vulnerability scans. Brian Lozada, CSO for Abacus Group, which provides managed IT services and solutions for hedge funds and private equity funds, says his firm has witnessed an uptick in these scans the past few months.

"Scans looking at open ports, protocols being run, services being run, that sort of thing," Lozada says of the recon efforts, which he says mainly come from China and Eastern Europe, including Russia. "They are putting out feelers for our environment, trying to listen and look at opportunities," something that's a common phenomenon for financial services firms today, he says.

Some 33% of all recon and "lure-stage" attacks are targeting financial services firms, according to the Raytheon/Websense study.

Lozada says his biggest worry is a key logger getting planted on the client machine of one its financial services customers. "Nation-states or other organized groups dedicated to hacking do their reconnaissance: what employees work for these financial services firms, and they start to target the employees directly," he says. "This is what financial services firms have to focus on. They have the test technology, and they need to invest in the [security] awareness of their users. The human element is always the biggest risk."

Abacus monitors its customer environments for signs of user account compromises that could occur via a key logger infection, he says.

The bad guys are actively going after credentials from users at banks and other financial firms, as well as data, according to the Raytheon/Websense report. The top three malware families attackers are using for these goals are Rerdom, Vawtrack, and Geodo. Geodo appears to be custom-made for financial firms, according to the report:  Geodo, which includes a credential-stealing email worm, was found 400% more often in the financial sector versus other sectors.

While financial firms hustle to keep shoring up their defenses, attackers are constantly changing up their attacks as needed to stay alive and under the radar. "Obfuscation and search engine optimization poisoning continue to be more prevalent in attacks against financial services than other industries as a whole. Patterns in attack campaigns shift on a month-to-month basis, including huge spikes in malicious redirection and obfuscation detected in a wave of attacks in March 2015," according to the report. "In addition, cybercriminals maintain a constant barrage of low-level attacks to keep security pros occupied dealing with a tremendous volume of background noise while targeted attacks are simultaneously occurring."

Raytheon/Websense's Leonard says typo squatting is a popular technique for fooling users into giving up their credentials via email. "They send an email from a fake domain that looks like" a bank's, for example, to employees in hopes that they will give up credentials. Some quarter of a million dollars has been stolen via this tactic, he says.

Attackers are mostly using servers in the US to wage their hacking campaigns, too. That's because most users and organizations are more likely to trust traffic from the US, he says.

While the top nations hosting malicious servers rotates occasionally, the US has been number one most months this year, the report shows. In May, 61% of attacks targeting financial firms came from servers hosted in the US.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is Executive Editor at She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
User Rank: Ninja
6/24/2015 | 12:41:39 PM
Re: Not Surprising
Very true. I think much of the changes deal with trend data. As security professionals and vendors we compile it, then beef up security against the vectors that are most prevalent. Unfortunately, I think cybercriminals do the opposite. They see whats trending and pivot away from it to try and attain a greater level of success and anonymity.
Kelly Jackson Higgins
Kelly Jackson Higgins,
User Rank: Strategist
6/24/2015 | 9:16:19 AM
Re: Not Surprising
What I thought was interesting about this data was that it showed non-DDoS attacks targeting banks and other financial firms. This is the really scary and dangerous stuff. 
User Rank: Ninja
6/24/2015 | 7:55:38 AM
Not Surprising
Banks being targeted more than other sectors is understandable due to the data they store. Also, I can attest as to DDoS that this is also the case. I recently wrote my GSEC Gold paper on it based largely off RadWare's 2013/4 Report. And the two sectors most heavily targeted by DoS were government and financial.
Crowdsourced vs. Traditional Pen Testing
Alex Haynes, Chief Information Security Officer, CDL,  3/19/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: Reading Schneier's Friday Squid Blog again?
Current Issue
5 Emerging Cyber Threats to Watch for in 2019
Online attackers are constantly developing new, innovative ways to break into the enterprise. This Dark Reading Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at five emerging attack trends and exploits your security team should look out for, along with helpful recommendations on how you can prevent your organization from falling victim.
Flash Poll
The State of Cyber Security Incident Response
The State of Cyber Security Incident Response
Organizations are responding to new threats with new processes for detecting and mitigating them. Here's a look at how the discipline of incident response is evolving.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
PUBLISHED: 2019-03-18
An unquoted search path vulnerability was identified in Lenovo Dynamic Power Reduction Utility prior to version that could allow a malicious user with local access to execute code with administrative privileges.
PUBLISHED: 2019-03-18
Five9 Agent Desktop Plus 10.0.70 has Incorrect Access Control (issue 2 of 2).
PUBLISHED: 2019-03-17
Phamm (aka PHP LDAP Virtual Hosting Manager) 0.6.8 allows XSS via the login page (the /public/main.php action parameter).
PUBLISHED: 2019-03-15
CircuitWerkes Sicon-8, a hardware device used for managing electrical devices, ships with a web-based front-end controller and implements an authentication mechanism in JavaScript that is run in the context of a user's web browser.
PUBLISHED: 2019-03-15
An Integer overflow vulnerability exists in the batchTransfer function of a smart contract implementation for CryptoBotsBattle (CBTB), an Ethereum token. This vulnerability could be used by an attacker to create an arbitrary amount of tokens for any user.