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Hackers empty $900K bank account

By Claes Bell, CFA · Bankrate.com
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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147 Comments
TheSkepticalCynic
April 17, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Stop the press! Stop the press!

News Flash!

Dateline February 25, 2013
of an incident occurring some two months PRIOR‽

YYYYYYAAAAWWWNNN!

Overtaxed
April 17, 2013 at 6:05 am

Why is this even a story? The Federal Government does this everyday.... :-/

George
April 16, 2013 at 4:53 pm

Personally, I think they ought to hunt down these scum to the ends of the earth and make them suffer excruciating deaths through gross and henious tortures. It doesn't matter where they find them, whether it be in Kenya, Nigeria, China or Newark, NJ, they should be made to suffer agonizing, screaming deaths and all televised to make this kind of crime odious to anyone who would dare perpetrate it.

JollyRancher
April 16, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Maybe the banks should mutual out quality anti-viral freeware to all their customers. It seems that prevention is the cheapest and most effective cure. If they collaborate and keep it a universally used program it becomes even more efficient. Seems worth it even if you look at it from a federal spending point of view.Just a suggestion from the gallery. To bad they don't have someone with a non-affiliated and objective desire to re-structure the decision making and authorization process of this country.I guess we've all got used to stupidity by now.
We abide.

Federal Reserve
April 16, 2013 at 1:16 pm

*PSSSST* ... The money is not worth the paper it is printed on anyway.

Bitcoin is worth more.

Ooops. Cat is out of the bag now, for sure.

jelabarre
April 16, 2013 at 7:20 am

> 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.

All the more reason to be running Linux instead of Windows.

Frozen
April 15, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Is heath ledger still alive?

nicotine

Frozen
April 15, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Dear Shiggity, Who do you think you are...? me?!

DoktorThomas
April 13, 2013 at 7:34 pm

The headline is incorrect and highly misleading, perhaps even false depending...

"CRACKERS empty $900K bank account" is the correct headline.

There is never an excuse for poor or misleading journalism. Shame on you, Geffner and Bell.

Shiggity
April 12, 2013 at 5:07 pm

@DL Fair

By "real dollars," are you referring to those pieces of paper with Washington's face on them?

Have you ever used any electronic money transfer mechanism ever?

Ever used a credit card?