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Hackers empty $900K bank account

By Claes Bell ·
Monday, February 25, 2013
Posted: 9 am ET

In itself, a distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attack on a bank's website is little more than costly hooliganism. It essentially consists of hackers ordering a bunch of malware-infected computers to "click" on a bank's website until it's too overwhelmed to respond to legitimate users.

The effect is pretty similar to a barricade across the entrance to your bank: You can't get in, but your money is still safe inside the bank.

But what if thieves used a DDoS attack as cover for a more harmful attack that did actually compromise customer checking accounts? That appears to be exactly what happened to a customer of Bank of the West, according to a report from security blogger Brian Krebs:

A Christmas Eve cyber-attack against the website of a regional California financial institution helped to distract bank officials from an online account takeover against one of its clients, netting thieves more than $900,000.

At approximately midday on Dec. 24, 2012, organized cyber crooks began moving money out of corporate accounts belonging to Ascent Builders, a construction firm based in Sacramento, Calif. In short order, the company's financial institution -- San Francisco-based Bank of the West -- came under a large distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack …

There were 62 individuals suckered in to acting as "mules" for the stolen money, according to Krebs.

It's standard operating procedure for scammers to recruit unsuspecting individuals and businesses ("make big money working from home!") to accept a substantial deposit from thieves and wire the bulk of it overseas, keeping a portion for themselves as payments. Typically, the money clears and the mule completes the transfer, only to have the authorities catch up with them and claw back the money, leaving them on the hook for most of the losses.

Obviously, you never want to agree to accept and transfer cash as these mules did. Aside from the legal implications of engaging in what amounts to money laundering, what good are promised payoffs if they're going to be clawed back later?

Another important step to avoid having your account on the receiving end of this type of coordinated attack is having up-to-date antivirus software installed on your computer. Krebs writes that the thieves may have gained access to Ascent Builders' bank logins using malware surreptitiously installed on its computers. And you don't want that happen to you, especially on Christmas Eve.

What do you think? Do you worry about online thieves draining your accounts? What precautions do you take to prevent that from happening?

Follow me on Twitter: @claesbell.

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Donald Clugston
April 12, 2013 at 2:42 pm

I leave my money at the casino where it is safe.

April 12, 2013 at 11:59 am

DL Fair, did you read the article? No? Ok... here you go, they transferred money from the account to "mule" accounts. Those accounts (people like you and I, well... like you, they're dumb) then sent some of the money to an overseas account and kept some of it for themselves. The thing is that money was never theirs (the mules) so they are out the money they got to keep and have to pay back the money they sent.

Hopefully you understand.

DL Fair
April 11, 2013 at 6:02 pm

So they took some numbers in an account? What good is that?

Not like they actually took any real dollars.

Think about it.

April 09, 2013 at 1:29 am

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April 08, 2013 at 11:24 pm

Hey Sarge, what if that "rich dude" had your pay check. Maybe all those funds were to pay subcontractors and suppliers? Is it ok for someone with less money than Sarge to take his computer?

April 08, 2013 at 11:23 am

OH well some rich dude got his account hacked into.

April 07, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Don't click on links from spam emails
Don't open phishing emails . . . period

Switch to paperless billing.

April 06, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Don't do anything financial on-line. Period! End of headache!

April 05, 2013 at 7:43 pm

Obtain a written agreement from your Bank that such losses would be covered and the victim made whole. Absent insurance covering your deposits from hacking etc. Its cheap.

April 05, 2013 at 7:20 pm

All banks should offer the option : " Not accessible online"
for us Luddites who don't mind taking a trip to the bank and talking to a real live person. Butllet proof online security is a myth, Someone designed it, ergo al least one person knows how to crack it.