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New ZeuS-based Trojan leeches cash from cloud-based payrolls

Adds phishing mules to employee roster

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Cybercrooks have forged a ZeuS-based Trojan that targets cloud-based payroll service providers.

ZeuS, a favourite tool for financially motivated cybercrooks, has provided a straightforward way to harvest online banking credentials for years. A new attack, detected by transaction security firm Trusteer, shows that crooks are going up the food chain.

Trusteer researchers have captured a ZeuS configuration that targets Ceridian, a Canadian human resources and payroll services provider. The ZeuS-based Trojan works by capturing a screenshot of the payroll services web page when a malware-infected PC is used to visit the site. This information is uploaded, allowing crooks to obtain the user ID, password, company number and the icon selected by the user for the image-based authentication system – enough information to siphon funds from compromised accounts into those controlled by money mules, as explained in a blog post here.

Trusteer reckons crooks are targeting the small cloud service provider in order to get around the tougher problem of how to bypass industrial strength security controls that are typically maintained by larger businesses. Cloud services can be accessed using unmanaged devices that are typically less secure and more vulnerable to infection by ZeuS-style financial malware.

The financial losses associated with this type of attack are potentially huge. For example, last August cyberthieves reportedly stole $217,000 from the Metropolitan Entertainment & Convention Authority (MECA) after compromising its payroll system and adding money mules as employees. A MECA worker reportedly fell for a phishing email that allowed crooks to steal access credentials to the organisation's payroll system.

Hitting payroll providers is certainly far more lucrative than targeting individual consumers, according to Trusteer, which predicts a growth in this type of attack as a result. ®

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