Cybercrime & Bank Robbery . . . You & Your Money Safe?
From December 2012 to May 2013 a massive 21st century bank heist stretched around the globe and inflicted $45 million in financial losses. Riding the Internet, the international criminal whirlwind was indiscriminate. It hit corporations as well as individuals, raiding mega business accounts as well as personal life savings.
In New York City, eight individuals – a cell with direct ties to international organized cybercrime – were arrested for their participation in the global heist. Working as “money mules” – the final link in this cybercrime chain – the eight allegedly stole, in two days, between $2.8 and $3 million in cash at neighborhood ATMs.
To better understand the phrase “cybercrime chain,” each link in the chain is a separate skilled player or players, each with a defined part to play. This criminal “cast” usually follows the following two-part sequence:
Behind the scenes:
– The Developer (creates and sells malware software)
– The Hacker (buys the malware, then steals and sells personal or business account information)
– The Cybercriminal (buys the stolen account information and uses it)
– The Money Mule (the criminal operation’s “legs;” physically goes to – in this case – targeted ATMs and steals the cash)
The charges against the eight “mules” included criminal conspiracy, criminal fraud, and criminal theft.
Shortly after the arrests and charges U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch informed the public at a press conference. Dead serious, she said:
Moving as swiftly as data over the Internet, the organization worked its way [from corporate computer systems] to the streets of New York City . . . to steal millions of dollars from hundreds of ATMs in a matter of hours.
To the uninformed, her words might have sounded like a lively movie teaser, not a straight-faced Department of Justice announcement.
In this case, reality did trump fiction . . . and history as well (such as in “The Great Train Robbery,” John Dillinger, and Bonnie & Clyde). Instead of using guns, ski masks, and getaway cars, these modern cyber-crooks hid behind laptops and digitally covered their getaway on the Internet. It was “The Great ATM Robbery.”
(But before you assume the threat of “traditional” gun-and-mask robbery is now “out of style,” remember this statistic: Once a week, somewhere in the U.S., a traditional bank robbery attempt will occur. And this fact doesn’t include the ever-increasing, nationwide number of muggings at local ATMs, many of which go unreported.)
The point is, digital technology is constantly expanding . . . almost every single day (to the point where you might think today is just an “update” of yesterday). This ever-changing evolution affects all of us – from solid citizen to cyber crook. How we conduct our business – pay bills, shop, or bank – is forever tech-dependent and is forever digitally twined.
And like a bad gene – also a part of this evolution – cybercriminal activity is constantly evolving and expanding as well. In all likelihood, cyber-attacks will be the primary bank robberies of the future.
These future robberies don’t have to be “big picture” (like the dramatic cyber-heist described above). The robberies can be much smaller and closer to home. The odds statistically favor the fact: At some time or other your credit or debit card information will be used by someone other than yourself.
And the word “robbery” isn’t limited to just stealing your money anymore. The fact is, cybercriminals operating in underground black markets can turn a profit simply by buying and selling your bank account information long before any money is stolen (an exposure they work to avoid). A list of one million addresses, e.g., can be had for as little as $111.00. Again, statistically, the odds say your name could possibly be on somebody’s list.
It may seem overwhelming. Are we now more vulnerable in the digital era? Do we risk exposure to the “viruses” of criminal activity? Are our digital “antibodies,” our countermeasures, strong enough and in place?
It’s important to remember: Digital evolution does not automatically mean vulnerability. Vikram Thakur, a principal manager with Symantec Security Response, has an observation:
Even though the threat is [always] substantial, it does not translate to [all] people losing [their] money.
The ever-evolving countermeasures to cyber theft are formidable. They have to be. Banks have gotten smarter and are constantly improving in the area of preventing cyber breaches. (And if your account should ever suffer a cyber-attack, the normal course of procedure is that the bank will cover your loss.) Regulatory agencies have grown in expertise, and online services are constantly improving their protection.
Even before you put your trust in something you think you have little control over, there’s a simple step you can take. Call it “an ounce of prevention” before you spend yourself on “a pound of cure.” The Blanch Law Firm believes the best thing to remember and act on is:
Store your personal information in a safe place and call that place Common Sense.
– Stephen Heath-Jones