Group-IB: $49.4 million of damage caused to Russia’s financial sector from cyber attacks

Haythem Elmir

Security firm Group-IB has estimated that in H2 2017-H1 2018 cyber attacks caused $49.4 million (2.96 billion rubles) of damage to Russia’s financial sector

Group-IB, an international company that specializes in preventing cyber attacks, has estimated that in H2 2017-H1 2018 cyber attacks caused $49.4 million (2.96 billion rubles) of damage to Russia’s financial sector. As stated in Group-IB’s annual report “Hi-Tech Crime Trends 2018” presented at the CyberCrimeCon18 conference, every month, 1-2 banks lose money as a result of cyber attacks, and the damage caused by one successful theft is, on average, $2 million.

“Financial motivation still prevails among APT-groups, however stolen money — is not the most dangerous thing that could happen to a financial organization”, — says Ilya Sachkov, Group-IB CEO and founder.  “Since in many countries banks are considered critical infrastructure, they are the targets for state-sponsored hacker groups, specialized in sabotage. One successful attack is capable of destroying one   financial organization and even the collapse of a state financial system. Considering this, banks need to rethink their approach to protection against cyber threats. Defense is an outdated strategy. It’s time to stop being victims and become hunters.”

financial sector Russia attacks

In the new report, Group-IB experts described in detail the cyber threats to the financial sector—active APT groups, tactics of the attackers, infection vectors, and new hacker tools.

Targeted attacks on banks:

Active groups and withdrawal methods

Group-IB identifies 4 criminal APT groups that pose a real threat to the financial sector: not only are they able to penetrate a bank’s network and access isolated financial systems, but they can also successfully withdraw money via SWIFT, AWS CBR, card processing and ATMs. These groups are CobaltMoneyTakerSilence, which are led by Russian-speaking hackers, and the North Korean group Lazarus.

Only two criminal groups pose a threat to the SWIFT interbank transfer system: Lazarus and Cobalt, the latter of which, at the end of 2017, conducted the first successful attack in the history of Russia’s financial sector on a bank using SWIFT. According to Group-IB estimates, the number of targeted attacks on banks to conduct thefts via SWIFT in the reporting period increased threefold. In the previous period, three such attacks were recorded: in Hong Kong, Ukraine, and Turkey. In this period, however, there have already been 9 successful attacks in Nepal, Taiwan, Russia, Mexico, India, Bulgaria, and Chile. The good news is that with SWIFT most of the unauthorized transfers can be stopped in time and returned to the banks affected.

Attacks on card processing remain one of the main methods of theft and they are actively used by hackers from Cobalt, MoneyTaker, and Silence. In February 2018, members of Silence conducted a successful attack on a bank and stole money via card processing: they managed to withdraw $522,000 (35 million rubles) from cards via the ATMs of a partner bank. Focusing attacks on ATMs and card processing led to a reduction in the average amount of damage from one attack. However, they allow attackers to conduct these attacks more securely for “drops” who cash out the stolen money. The attackers are in one country, their victim (the bank) in another, and the cashing out is done in a third country.

Withdrawing money through the AWS CBR (Automated Work Station Client of the Russian Central Bank) is actively used by MoneyTaker—in November 2017, they managed to withdraw $104,000 (7 million rubles), but in summer 2018, they successfully stole $865,000 (58 million rubles) from PIR Bank. MoneyTaker has already conducted 16 attacks in the US, 5 on banks in Russia, and 1 in the UK. In the US, the average amount of damage from one attack is $500,000. In Russia, the average amount of funds withdrawn is $1.1 million (72 million rubles). In December 2017, Group-IB published the first report on this group: “MoneyTaker: 1.5 Years of Silent Operations”.

In the designated period, only Cobalt conducted attacks on payment gateways. In 2017, they used this method to steal money from two companies, however, no attempts were made in 2018. They were helped in one of their attacks by members of the group Anunak, which had not conducted at attack of this kind since 2014. Despite the arrest of the gang’s leader in Spain in spring 2018, Cobalt continues to be one of the most active and aggressive groups, steadily attacking financial organizations in Russia and abroad 2-3 times a month.

Attacks on bank customers:

The decline of Android Trojans and the triumph of phishing

In Russia, according to Group-IB experts, there are no longer any groups left that would conduct thefts from individuals using banking Trojans for PCs. This trend aimed at reducing threats from banking Trojans for PCs has been continuing in Russia since 2012.

At present, only three criminal groups—Buhtrap2RTM, and Toplel—steal money from the accounts of legal entities in Russia. Group-IB experts noted a change in the attackers’ tactics in the second half of 2017: the vector for the distribution of Trojans was no longer the traditional malicious campaigns or hacked popular sites, but the creation of new tailored resources for accountants and companies executives who use remote banking systems (RBSs), payment systems, or cryptocurrency wallets in their work. On the fake resources, the criminals placed code that was designed to download the Buhtrap and RTM Trojans.

Unlike in Russia, on the global stage, the cyber threat landscape has undergone far greater changes. Six new banking Trojans for PCs have emerged: IcedID, BackSwap, DanaBot, MnuBot, Osiris and Xbot. Among the new Trojans, we would like to highlight BackSwap, which initially only attacked banks in Poland, but then moved on to banks in Spain. BackSwap is interesting because it simultaneously implemented several new techniques of introducing code to automatically replace payment details. The greatest threat for bank customers still comes from criminal groups that use the Dridex, Trickbot, and Gozi Trojans.

Over the last year, Group-IB experts have noted a decline in Russia of the epidemic of infecting smartphones with Android Trojans, after several years of rapid growth. The number of daily thefts committed using Android Trojans in Russia decreased almost threefold, and the average amount of theft decreased from $164 to $104. New Android Trojans—Easy, Exobot 2.0, CryEye, Cannabis, fmif, AndyBot, Loki v2, Nero banker, Sagawa and others—that are put up for sale or hire on hacker forums are primarily intended for use outside of Russia. An exception to this is the malware Banks in Your Hand. The Trojan was disguised as a financial app intended to be used as an “aggregator” of the mobile banking systems of Russia’s leading banks. Every day, the Trojan stole between $1,500 and $7,500 from users, however in March 2018, with Group-IB’s assistance, the criminals were detained by the police. Another cause of the reduction in the damage among customers can be explained by banks and payment systems introducing technologies for early fraud detection that use behavioral analysis algorithms, allowing to detect attacks, that combine social engineering scams phishing, botnets, illegal money withdrawal networks and fraud across multiple channels and other types of banking fraud on all customer devices and platforms

There has been a significant rise in the number of crimes committed using web phishing and fake websites of banks, payment systems, telecoms operators, online stores and famous brands. Using web phishing, criminals have managed to steal $3.7 million (251 million rubles), which is 6% more than in the previous period. On average, approximately $15 are stolen in each phishing attack. According to Group-IB estimates, the number of groups that create phishing websites imitating Russian brands has increased from 15 to 26. As for global trends, as expected, the greatest amount of websites for financial phishing are registered in the USA. They account for 80% of all financial phishing sites. France is in second place, followed by Germany.

Group-IB’s CEO, Ilya Sachkov, notes that to defeat cyber crime, we need to synchronize the law at state level, hit the economic base and funding channels of criminals, and introduce a moratorium on the development and sale of digital weapons that may end up in criminal hands.

Cyber security must be a priority paradigm for people, business, and the state. It is thought that countering cyber threats is a typical competition of armor and equipment. This is why the protection paradigm itself has now changed: the main idea is to be a few steps ahead of the cyber criminals and stop crimes from happening in the first place.”

About the author Group-IB

Group-IB is one the world’s leading providers of solutions aimed at detection and prevention of cyber attacks, fraud exposure and protection of intellectual property on the Internet. GIB Threat Intelligence cyber threats data collection system has been named one of the best in class by Gartner, Forrester, and IDC.

Group-IB’s technological leadership is built on company’s fifteen years of hands-on experience in cybercrime investigations all over the world and 55 000 hours of cyber security incident response accumulated in the largest forensic laboratory in Eastern Europe and a round-the-clock centre providing a rapid response to cyber incidents—CERT-GIB.

Group-IB is a partner of INTERPOL, Europol, and a cybersecurity solutions provider, recommended by SWIFT and OSCE.

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