UK targeted by bank-robbing malware

By Emma Lunn

Consumers who use online banking have been warned to watch out for a particularly dangerous new type of malware. It doesn't just drain money from your bank account -- but creates false online statements so it appears the money is still there.

The latest version of SpyEye's malware kit has been detected on Windows PCs in the UK and in the United States.  In fact, according to online security company Trusteer, which discovered the threat, the UK has been SpyEye's biggest attack target in Europe.hacker

How it works
Trusteer describes the newest version of SpyEye as a form of "post transaction" attack. That means the real damage is done after the account holder has closed the online banking session.

The software infiltrates your computer and begins lurking. When you log in to your bank account, the virus gives you prompts (that look like they're from your bank), asking for sensitive information such as card numbers and expiration dates. Cyber thieves now have everything they need to access your account and steal your money.  

What makes SpyEye particularly dangerous is what happens next. The software creates a manipulated online statement that displays whenever you log in to your account on your computer. This false online statement makes it look as if stolen money is still in your account.

This gives cyber criminals more time to carry out further fraudulent transactions, either online or with a clone of the customer's debit card. Account holders are usually unaware they have been targeted until they receive paper statements from their banks, or when transactions are refused because their accounts are overdrawn.

However, because many banks now encourage customers to opt out of paper statements, it could take many months before the fraudulent activity is identified.

Fighting back
Ask if your bank offers software designed to protect you from such attacks. Keep in mind, however, that if you bank online, protecting your computer and your money isn't as simple as a one-time download. Viruses are constantly evolving, and so must your protective measures.

Basic protection includes making sure your anti-virus software and browser are up to date. Make sure any 'anti-phishing' options are activated in Firefox, Chrome or Internet Explorer.

"However, there is much more that can be done to be protected from threats like SpyEye without much effort," says Toralv Dirro.

Be sure you're regularly installing security updates for your operating system and multimedia and document-viewing applications. Dirro recommends automating these updates.

Other than that, rely on your instincts when using email and social networks.

"Only open attachments if you expect them, and ask the sender if there is any doubt," Dirro says. "Never open attachments from unknown senders."

Legally, bank customers who are victims of fraud should be reimbursed by their banks. Yet proving the loss and getting refunded can be a time-consuming paperwork hassle. Moreover, banks generally require customers to exercise reasonable care in protecting their accounts and account information. Proving that you did so can be a stumbling block in reclaiming your money if you fell for a scam that involved giving a thief your PIN.

See related: Why you should never reuse credit card PINs; Women 'face higher online card fraud risk

Published: 31 January 2012