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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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Kenneth Scheriff
April 22, 2013 at 7:42 am

Try to sandbag a computer in your office. Make one computer dedicated only to accessing your cash management system. There must be no e mails coming into that computer as that is the way the hackers plant the virus which enables them to use YOUR computer to access your accounts.

April 19, 2013 at 4:04 pm

"we have know common sense left"..lmao

They most likely performed a number of wire transfers to other accounts, western union cash pickups, etc. Working in consumer banking fraud, I see this exact activity from time to time. It's not typical, but it does happen.

The most common fraud is when your card number gets into someone else's hands. What happened here requires a much more coordinated a thought out plan.

April 19, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Simple solution..don't use online banking. Anything you do online can be hacked, tracked and compromised. Same goes for ATM's from which the criminals have managed to skim card numbers with their crafty little devices. Take a break from that "instant gratification" impulse and do what I do...use your local bank teller, and go back to snail mail. Save a few jobs.

April 19, 2013 at 2:24 pm

I agree with kyle! haha!

Lisa Yorgensen
April 19, 2013 at 12:43 am

So.... did this Bank of the West client get his money returned to his account????? OR what????

April 18, 2013 at 2:46 pm

It must be Bush's fault.

April 18, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Jack Hammer's comment may be the funniest thing of all time..

"We have know common sense left."

david sherill
April 18, 2013 at 11:30 am

chump eats turds

Jack Hammer
April 18, 2013 at 11:19 am

It’s not possible to remove DOLLARS from an account electronically. You can only move numbers and as far as I know numbers don't spend easily.
What do these people do move the numbers than stop by to get the cash later?

We have know common sense left.

April 17, 2013 at 8:08 pm

This is just begging for a sting operation.