Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Attacks/Breaches

Fast Flux Botnet Nets Fraudsters $78 Million

Security report offers new details on financial hackers, warns that automated clearing house payment channels could be next target of increasingly sophisticated attacks.

Who Is Hacking U.S. Banks? 8 Facts
Who Is Hacking U.S. Banks? 8 Facts
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
What does it take to build a cutting-edge, highly automated series of attacks against banking systems, powered by financial malware and bulletproof hosting services? For starters, it helps to have extensive experience using the Zeus and SpyEye financial malware toolkits.

That's just one finding from "Operation High Roller Revisited," a new report released this week by McAfee and Guardian Analytics, which provides greater insights into the gangs that appear to be behind a massive number of attacks launched against financial institutions from servers located in Russia, Albania and China.

[ Apparently, even hacktivists need a holiday. Read U.S. Bank Hackers Promise DDoS Pause. ]

The criminals have stolen an estimated $78 million, in part by using financial malware. "These campaigns, like many other attempts at fraud, originated in Eastern Europe, so it is not surprising that the actors had an extensive history of Zeus and SpyEye activity," read the report, which was written by Ryan Sherstobitoff, a threat researcher at McAfee.

But the attackers' sophistication has also continued to increase. "Prior to conceiving Operation High Roller, our data shows that the fraudsters actively participated in early automated transfer systems against consumers and some business accounts and actively used Zeus and SpyEye in these attacks," said Sherstobitoff in a blog post. "These initial efforts were likely their test ground to gain knowledge of financial systems and their various fraud prevention practices." From there, he said, the gangs progressed to more advanced attacks, including launching highly automated transfer system exploits against European banks at the end of 2011. Earlier this year, the attacks were expanded to exploit banks in North America as well.

The new report updates research released in June by McAfee and Guardian Analytics, which first detailed Operation High Roller. A total of 12 different criminal gangs appear to be involved in the attacks, which have been launched against financial institutions of every size, from credit unions to large banks. Most of the attacks documented in that report used Zeus and SpyEye malware to attempt to transfer money out of accounts located in the United States and the Netherlands.

The groups behind Operation High Roller have tended to focus only on certain industries. "Typically these campaigns have no precise target other than high net worth businesses with significant cash flow," according to the report. Interestingly, however, the U.S. attacks seemed to focus on commercial banking involving businesses in the manufacturer and import/export industries, as well as state and local governments.

Their attacks mix manual exploits with quite sophisticated automated attacks, which were launched against thousands of financial institutions in Europe and North America. To help avoid detection, criminals launched their automated attacks not from compromised PCs that were part of a botnet but from servers. These servers appeared to be leased from so-called bulletproof hosting providers, predominantly located in Russia, China, or other parts of Asia, which offer quite lenient "acceptable use" policies and terms of service for their systems.

Now the researchers have found that the criminals involved in Operation High Roller had previously used elements of the same infrastructure to launch a series of prior attacks that involved automated transfer system attack tools, which are designed to automatically drain targeted bank accounts.

In the past, malware such as Zeus might use Web injection files to modify target websites, then attempt to trick users into inputting their credentials, at which point attackers could manually steal their money by transferring it into another account. Automated transfer systems, however, take users out of the equation because they "allow cybercriminals to automatically transfer funds from victims' accounts to their own ones without leaving traces of their presence," according to Trend Micro threat researcher Loucif Kharouni. "Instead of merely passively stealing information, [they] allow cybercriminals to instantly carry out financial transactions that could deplete users' bank accounts without their knowledge."

McAfee's Sherstobitoff said that researchers had traced some of the attacks to a server located in Kemerovo, Russia. But that server pointed to other servers, some located in China and one in San Jose, Calif. "These connections were the first indication that this was a 'fast-flux' botnet with many levels of complication," he said. "The fast-flux technique allows malware to hide itself in an array of compromised servers and increase its lifespan."

Going forward, expect the gangs involved in Operation High Roller to continue pushing the malicious-banking-attack state of the art. "Financial institutions, regulators, and security researchers should expect the likely next target to be Automated Clearing House payment channels," said Sherstobitoff. "The fraudsters will build on the methods, malware, and infrastructure employed in Operation High Roller, laced with new ideas and locations to be discovered. We should be looking for any signs of 'test cases' against these systems and tracking interactions to uncover malicious sites and infrastructure."

Organizations challenged by meeting the requirements of multiple regulatory mandates are increasingly looking at the alignment of governance, risk, and compliance under a unified framework, GRC.In our report, A Security Pro's Guide To GRC, we examine where the security professionals figure into the mix and recommend the steps organizations should take to align IT GRC with existing security programs and processes. (Free registration required.)

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Tom LaSusa
50%
50%
Tom LaSusa,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/26/2012 | 6:12:11 PM
re: Fast Flux Botnet Nets Fraudsters $78 Million
Great read
News
US Formally Attributes SolarWinds Attack to Russian Intelligence Agency
Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer,  4/15/2021
News
Dependency Problems Increase for Open Source Components
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  4/14/2021
News
FBI Operation Remotely Removes Web Shells From Exchange Servers
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  4/14/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
2021 Top Enterprise IT Trends
We've identified the key trends that are poised to impact the IT landscape in 2021. Find out why they're important and how they will affect you today!
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
Recent breaches of third-party apps are driving many organizations to think harder about the security of their off-the-shelf software as they continue to move left in secure software development practices.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-27241
PUBLISHED: 2021-04-19
An exploitable SQL injection vulnerability exists in ‘getAssets.jsp’ page of OpenClinic GA 5.173.3. The serialnumber parameter in the getAssets.jsp page is vulnerable to unauthenticated SQL injection. An attacker can make an authenticated HTTP request to trigger...
CVE-2021-3497
PUBLISHED: 2021-04-19
GStreamer before 1.18.4 might access already-freed memory in error code paths when demuxing certain malformed Matroska files.
CVE-2021-3498
PUBLISHED: 2021-04-19
GStreamer before 1.18.4 might cause heap corruption when parsing certain malformed Matroska files.
CVE-2021-3505
PUBLISHED: 2021-04-19
A flaw was found in libtpms in versions before 0.8.0. The TPM 2 implementation returns 2048 bit keys with ~1984 bit strength due to a bug in the TCG specification. The bug is in the key creation algorithm in RsaAdjustPrimeCandidate(), which is called before the prime number check. The highest threat...
CVE-2020-27240
PUBLISHED: 2021-04-19
An exploitable SQL injection vulnerability exists in ‘getAssets.jsp’ page of OpenClinic GA 5.173.3. The componentStatus parameter in the getAssets.jsp page is vulnerable to unauthenticated SQL injection An attacker can make an authenticated HTTP request to trigg...