New Android Malware Better at Targeting Bank Transactions

Online criminals beef up their tactics for stealing money from banks and their customers, adding more sophisticated Android malware to capture the secret codes sent by banks to their customers.

By: Robert Lemos

Online criminals continue to improve their tactics for stealing money from banks and their customers. The evolving attacks now include more sophisticated Android malware that aims to capture the secret codes sent by banks to their customers to validate money transfers, according to a July 10 blog post by secure Web provider Trusteer.

As part of their evolving capabilities, underground developers have added ways to steal information-ranging from mobile devices, known as man-in-the-mobile attacks, to popular crime toolkits, such as a Zeus and SpyEye. The toolkits are the most popular way to create attacks on financial customers, manage criminal operations and steal money. Earlier this summer, a criminal group added man-in-the-mobile capabilities to a third framework, known as Tatanga, the company says.

In addition, online thieves have customized the attacks to target financial institutions in a variety of European countries, such as Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.

The attacks are specifically designed to get around the additional security adopted by some banks: the communication of a secret code to a customer's phone to validate large transactions. And, because Android has captured some 60 percent of the European marketplace, it has become a major target, said George Tubin, senior security strategist for Trusteer.

"What we see over time is that fraudsters continue to adapt, and as financial institutions put in more fraud controls, it is just a matter of time before the fraudsters figure out a way around it," said Tubin.

Many banks use text messaging as a second communications channel to the customer. When a large transaction is sent to the bank, the institution attempts to confirm the transaction. A man-in-the-mobile attack (MitMo) is a malicious application that runs in the background and intercepts text messages and other communications to allow attackers to confirm transactions and to prevent the victims from discovering the fraud until it is too late.

"This enables the criminals to initiate fraudulent transfers and capture the security codes needed to bypass out-of-band authorization systems used by many European banks," according to the Trusteer blog post.

In many cases, criminals using Zeus and SpyEye have targeted small businesses, stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from their accounts. Businesses should attempt to minimize the likelihood that criminals can get control of a computer that connects to a bank. Using a system solely for financial transactions and minimizing the number of people with access to the system are two good ways to reduce the chance of a financially crippling attack.

Consumers should educate themselves as to the threat and only download applications from the official Android marketplace, Google Play, or another trusted source. Since the application installation process can be started by clicking on a link, users should avoid tapping on unknown links sent in text messages, through social networks and by email.

Attacks targeting Android are a tiny fraction of attacks on PC systems, but they are growing. Trusteer's Tubin expects that growth to continue, especially if banks continue to use mobile devices as a second way of securing online transactions.

"The criminals are business people, and they will spend their time on what will make them money," said Tubin. "So if they find that this is something that works, you will see a bigger push into the Android device."