ZeuS-style banking Trojans seen as greatest threat to online banking: Survey

A survey of financial services professionals at 70 banks found more than half considered real-time man-in-the-middle attacks from banking Trojans such as ZeuS and Clampi on compromised customer computers to be the greatest threat to online banking today.

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In these online attacks against banks and their customers, criminals managed to compromise PCs with a banking Trojan and make fraudulent funds transfers to their own accounts or those of “money mules” ordered to send the stolen amount to them. This is typically aimed at stripping business accounts of assets, and in the last few years, evidence shows Trojan-based attacks have been quite successful, though law enforcement around the world has also been able to break up a few of these often international cybercrime rings.  

The “2010 Online Banking Survey” published this week, sponsored by PhoneFactor,  shows that the senior information technology, risk management and business unit managers responding to the survey consider banking Trojan such as ZeuS the greatest threat to online banking. Password phishing and pharming came in a distant second, with 24% calling that the greatest threat.

Sixty-nine percent of the survey’s respondents indicated their organizations had seen an increase in attacks against customer accounts from Zeus-style online banking Trojans in the last 12 months. Thirty-seven percent said the banking Trojans were actually the “most prevalent type of attack” at their bank. The types of banking services considered most vulnerable are online ACH and wire transfers; one in three respondents rated these are as either “extremely” or “very” vulnerable to attack.

The survey also asked the 70 bank managers about what protective measures they are taking to address the ZeuS menace.

Ninety percent of them said their banks use online authentication via questions asked for security purposes and more than 60% also use some type of one-time password method through hardware tokens. Some of the security measures planned over the next year include out-of-band phones (to verify transactions through what’s typically an automated phone call) and text messages, plus fraud scoring.

Keri McKinney, the SunTrust Banks group vice president of treasury and payment solutions, says one defensive measure her organization adopted last spring to protect banking customers from banking malware is the Trusteer Rapport software and service.

“We’re offering it free of charge to our clients,” says McKinney, who says the Trusteer secure browser software plug-in is intended to detect and prevent the type of man-in-the-middle attacks where banking Trojans compromise the victim’s machine in order make unauthorized fraudulent funds transfers.

The Trusteer software, now used by about 10% of SunTrust’s commercial clients, has detected when clients’ machines become infected by malware.. “We’ve had several instances,” says McKinney, and when an infection is detected, the bank’s fraud detection unit immediately is involved to help disinfect the PC and there’s often phone-based discussion about the situation.

Nevertheless, it’s not mandatory for customers to use the Trusteer anti-malware defense. “We recommend it to clients; it’s the best practice,” says McKinney. The bank also supports several other anti-fraud methods.

According to the banking survey, 76% of the banking manager respondents said their investments in online banking security were being driven by concern about fraud losses and regulatory requirements. But the “impact on the institution’s reputation” ranked even higher, with 85% saying worry lies there as well.

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