The Anatomy of a Malware Attack

The Anatomy of a Malware Attack

By Troy Wunderlich

It is an unfortunate modern-day reality that malware attacks are becoming more frequent and sophisticated. Even more concerning is that most business leaders don’t realize the vigilance required to protect their company from cyberattacks. Through my work at Washington Trust I’ve worked with several clients who have learned that lesson the hard way.

One particular client example highlights the patience and sophistication of the threat that even small businesses are facing. A controller at a local organization noticed her computer acting strangely, independently closing programs and restarting on its own. She followed protocol by having her IT team investigate, but they found no viruses and could not come up with an explanation. She soon noticed she was unable to sign in to the company’s mobile banking accounts from her own workstation. IT still had no answers, but it all became clear when the controller returned to work the following Monday where she found several fraudulent wire transactions totaling well over $150,000 that were created late on Friday.

While our team was able to halt the majority of the wire transfers, some funds were unable to be recovered. The police were involved, and after weeks of investigation, the FBI discovered that a Zbot was planted in the controller’s computer several years earlier. The week of the attack, the controller opened an email with a resume in response to an employment ad, and the attachment downloaded a Zeus virus onto her computer. From there, the hackers had complete access to all of the company’s financial accounts and information.

I share this story to help business owners take the necessary precautions to prevent this sort of attack. Many business owners mistakenly believe that having anti-virus software is all they need to protect their businesses from fraud and malware, but the reality is that if employees aren’t hyper-vigilant, criminals can take advantage of the slightest mistake and circumvent common anti-virus software.

Here are some extra steps business owners should take in securing their business’s most sensitive information:

• Invest in fraud insurance for your small business. Because these fraudulent transactions took place at the business using the business’s own credentials, the bank in this case would not be liable. Fortunately, fraud insurance covered $50,000 of lost money in this case.
• Use dual authorization for payments or wire transfers. While this can make payments more time-consuming to process, it is worth the extra precaution.
• Have designated computers for banking purposes. These machines should not be used to open emails from strangers or visit untrusted sites.
• Update and lock down existing computers. Apply current patches for operating system vulnerabilities and restrict installation of unnecessary applications.
• Test employee(s) ability to spot phishing email. Awareness is key to stopping the negative effects of phishing emails that catch employees who click on links or open attachments from unknown sources. Regular testing and awareness training can prevent this from occurring.
• Train your staff. Ensure your staff is aware of current criminal tactics and what they can do to recognize potential threats. Properly trained staff will be able to spot the signs of phishing emails, fraud and possible malware.

Since malware attacks will continue to evolve, it is vital for business owners to have systems and processes in place to not only prevent attacks, but to have the capacity to respond if the worst happens. Nothing can substitute for a reliable IT team; investing in the best technology your business can afford; and having an open dialogue with your banker so you understand how your bank handles cybercrime and how to protect your business from these all-too-common attacks. Taking these steps will position your business to be as prepared and secure as possible.

Troy Wunderlich is a vice president and director of risk management with Spokane-based Washington Trust Bank.

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Washington Trust Bank