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10/21/2010
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FBI Warns Of 'Corporate Account Takeover' Scams

Attacks on small and midsize companies can be financially devastating, agency says

Cybercriminals are targeting the financial accounts of small and midsize businesses (SMBs), fraudulently transferring money directly from their accounts, the FBI warned yesterday.

In a fraud alert issued Wednesday, the FBI said "corporate account takeover" attacks use malware to steal passwords and other credentials from senior executives at SMBs and then use those credentials to empty the companies' coffers.

"To obtain access to financial accounts, cyber criminals target employees--often senior executives or accounting, HR personnel, and business partners--and cause the targeted individual to spread [malware], which in turn steals their personal information and log-in credentials," the FBI says in its full report (PDF).

"Once the account is compromised, the cyber criminal is able to electronically steal money from business accounts," the report explains. "Cyber criminals also use various attack methods to exploit check archiving and verification services that enable them to issue counterfeit checks, impersonate the customer over the phone to arrange funds transfers, mimic legitimate communication from the financial institution to verify transactions, create unauthorized wire transfers and ACH payments, or initiate other changes to the account."

In addition to targeting account information, attackers also seek to gain customer lists and other proprietary information, often using the same malware-spreading techniques, the report says.

The FBI first began warning enterprises about corporate account takeovers in 2006, but they are rising in numbers because cybercriminals have found them rather easy to perpetrate--especially when it comes to SMBs that don't have a dedicated IT security staff, the report says. The rewards are great--often surpassing hundreds of thousands of dollars--and the risk is low.

The FBI warns about unsolicited e-mails purportedly coming from delivery services, financial institutions, the IRS, the Better Business Bureau, federal courts, and even from compromised email accounts of other employees or executives of the firm. It urges employees to be wary of attachments seemingly containing PDFs or various MS Office files since they are usually constructed in such a way to allow them to exploit a vulnerability within the system.

The report also offers a variety of tips for protecting the enterprise, detecting the attacks, and responding to them. The FBI urges business owners to educate their employees and themselves, to strengthen the security of the computers and of the corporate network, and to be vigilant about corporate banking processes.

The agency also advises an everyday check of corporate accounts. If suspicious activity is detected, the FBI encourages an immediate interruption of online activity and reporting the potential problem to top management, to the financial institutions, and to the police.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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