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McAfee warns of Project Blitzkrieg hack attack on US banks

No, not that McAfee, the other McAfee

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Security firm McAfee warns that there is a credible threat of a coordinated Spring offensive against at least 30 US banks next year by Eastern European fraudsters.

Talk of Project Blitzkrieg started after a message in September on a hacking board from a user identifying himself as vorVzakone, who was looking for recruits for a campaign against US banks, credit unions, and investment houses. The poster claims to have made $5m from a similar job in 2008 and posted malware screenshots of the code to be used.

It had been suspected that the vorVzakone character was in fact a sting by the Russian security services. But McAfee Labs, after studying the information posted and cross-referencing it with its own malware logs, suspects the threat may be real and more widespread than first thought, and Fidelity, E*Trade, Charles Schwab, PayPal, Citibank, Wachovia, Wells Fargo, Capital One, and others are at risk.

The McAfee team thinks the malware package that is being used is a variant of a four year-old family of trojans dubbed Gozi. A new version, dubbed Gozi Prinimalka and said to have a payload more advanced than Zeus or other banking-optimized malware, and has been quietly spreading in targeted attacks, with varying degrees of success.

"Not only did we find evidence validating the existence of an early pilot campaign operated by vorVzakone and his group using the Trojan Prinimalka that infected at a minimum 300 to 500 victims across the United States, but we were also able to track additional campaigns as a result of the forum posting," wrote the report's author Ryan Sherstobitoff, a threats researcher with McAfee Labs.

"Some recent reports argue that vorVzakone has called off this attack because it has been made public. Yet it is possible that the publicity may merely drive his activities deeper underground."

The command and control servers used in the previous Prinimalka attacks are largely found in Romania, Russia, and the Ukraine, with an outpost in The Netherlands. Sherstobitoff said that the fact that new Prinimalka command and control servers are now starting to pop up outside these zones suggests that there are new recruits to the plan, and he warns security teams to be ready and alert.

"These campaigns will not initially target hundreds or thousands of victims; rather they will stay under the radar by attacking selected groups," he said.

"This strategy is necessary if the attackers hope to succeed in transferring several million dollars over the course of the project. A limited number of infections reduces the malware's footprint and makes it hard for network defenses to detect its activities." ®

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