Enforcement cut global banking Trojans 53 percent

Coordinated global enforcement efforts reduced the number of financial Trojans by more than half -- 53 percent -- in 2014, according to a new report from Symantec, and phishing email rates fell 74 percent.

Despite a common perception that cybercriminals can safely hide overseas, this is no longer the case, said Candid Wueest, threat researcher with Symantec Security Response.

"It's clear that it's not yet perfect," he added. "We're not living in an age yet where it's impossible to get away. But law enforcement agencies from different countries are now working pretty well together."

Last year, for example, there were arrests of cybercriminals in Russia, Ukraine and Romania, among other countries, he said.

If the legal case is clear and solid, then all countries agree that illegal acts should be prosecuted, he said.

"For example, if people are stealing money of someone's bank account, it's obvious that they're cybercriminals," he said.

The primary targets for the authorities are specific families of malware, often connected via a botnet to command-and-control servers.

"If you can shut them down, then all of those will not receive any commands or be manipulated by the attackers," he said.

Law enforcement agencies are also focusing on the authors of malware toolkits.

"They're breaking the supply chain and making it harder for lower criminals to get their hands on the tools and use them," said Wueest.

Not all countries improved at the same rate, he added.

In the United States, the decline was about on a par with the global average. But financial Trojan activity did not drop as much in Japan, China, and South Korea.

"The attackers moved to different markets because it's starting to get more difficult to get money out of the US or UK-based financial institutions," he said.

However, the US is still the primary target for cybercriminals, he added.

Last year, financial Trojans compromised the computers of 4.1 million individual users, with variants of the Trojan.Zbot malware accounting for about 4 million of that number.

Nearly a million of those compromised computers were in the U.S., followed by the U.K. with just under 400,000, and Germany with 300,000.

A total of 595 financial U.S. financial institutions were targeted last year including one bank that unfortunately was targeted by 95 percent of all Trojans because the malware authors used it as a model for how to set up attacks.

Wueest declined to provide the name of that bank.

Meanwhile, although mobile payments and digital currencies were in the news last year, neither was a major target for cybercriminals.

"Bitcoin's market value is still high enough that we would expect more attacks against people using it," he said. "But, to our surprise, we haven't see a lot of attackers going after Bitcoin."

One reason, he suggested, is the Bitcoin users haven't hit critical mass, and the effort of writing malware targeting it is not currently worth it.

"Attackers are still making enough money from banking accounts," he said. "And if you infect someone's laptop, the chances of them using online banking is pretty high. But the percentage of people using digital currency is really a tiny fraction."

Meanwhile, as Apple, Google and Samsung begin to roll out mobile payments, he expects to see criminals to start paying attention soon.

"At the moment, we haven't seen the Trojans targeting those yet," he said. "But we do expect this year for attackers to look into it. If you can infect a mobile phone that can be used as a credit card, that is real money for attackers."

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