[ISN] Cybercrime Follows Money Trail

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Thu Mar 06 2003 - 03:07:20 PST

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    By Joanna Glasner 
    Mar. 05, 2003 
    When asked why he always went after banks, the famed Depression-era
    robber Willie Sutton once explained that he picked them because
    "that's where the money is."
    Nowadays, with more banking transactions performed over electronic
    networks than teller windows, a federal agency believes the same logic
    might appeal to cyberterrorists.
    In a report released this week on "Efforts of the Financial Services
    Sector to Assess Cyber Threats," the U.S. General Accounting Office
    concluded that entities handling monetary transactions face a
    particularly high risk of attack by criminals or terrorist
    The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, included financial
    services in a list of industries that provide so-called "critical
    infrastructure," such as telecommunications or electrical power.
    In the case of financial services, the GAO found that "the potential
    for monetary gains and economic disruptions may increase its
    attractiveness as a target."
    In the online context, however, Sutton's logic plays out on a bigger
    scale. As of mid-2002, the report estimates, financial services
    providers in the United States, including commercial banks, insurance
    companies, mutual funds, pension funds and securities brokers, among
    others, held more than $23.5 trillion in assets.
    Increasingly, assets are changing hands over computer networks, for
    purposes ranging from Internet banking to electronic stock trading to
    the backend operations required for settling transactions. But the
    growth of these services, the GAO found, "has also increased the
    degree of access to the systems used to support these services." As
    access grows, so does the risk of criminal intrusions.
    The GAO's concerns dovetail findings in a biannual report on Internet
    security threats published by Symantec in February. The security firm
    found that the overall volume of cyberattacks in the second half of
    2002 declined by about 6 percent from the first half of the year.  
    Symantec said it was the first time it had recorded such a decline.
    But while overall cyberattacks were down, the financial services
    industry was not spared. According to Symantec, the financial services
    industry "experienced a sharp rise in attack volume and relative
    attack severity."
    Vincent Weafer, director of Symantec Security Response, said some of
    the rise in reported attacks can be attributed to the usual suspects:  
    cybercriminals on the prowl for credit card numbers and bank account
    records. Weafer said that banks are better at detecting intrusion
    attempts, so more attacks are being counted.
    Like the GAO, however, Weafer sees online banking and other
    applications in which customers access financial institutions from
    their personal computers as particularly risky.
    "Where we really need to focus attention is on the home users," he
    said. "They're being used by criminals as launch pads to attack
    critical infrastructure."
    But while cyberattack risks remain high for financial services firms,
    the GAO acknowledged that a number of industry groups and regulatory
    agencies are actively working to boost security.
    Private-sector efforts include a plan by the Securities Industry
    Association for a virtual command center that will be activated when a
    significant disaster occurs. Another group, the Financial Services
    Technology Consortium, developed a database through which financial
    institutions could find space to get their operations back up and
    running in the event of a disaster.
    Meanwhile, federal regulators, such as the Federal Reserve and the
    Securities and Exchange Commission, are increasing scrutiny of
    information security risks among the financial institutions they
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