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McAfee Labs, a company that deals with internet security from malware and hackers, has announced that a ring of criminals intend to steal money from customers with accounts at major American banks. The operation even has a codename, “Project Blitzkreig,” and is rumored to go into effect this coming spring. The fact that this plan is now out in the open makes it more likely that the cyber attack won't occur as predicted, but it still engenders public fear and concern that our money is vulnerable when deposited into the bank.
According to CNN Money, the following banks are being targeted: Chase, Fidelity, E*Trade, Charles Schwab, PayPal, Citibank, Wachovia, Wells Fargo, Capital One, Navy Federal Credit Union, and more. There may be many reasons to dissuade a potential customer from doing business with large financial institutions, but the threat of a cyber attack shouldn't be one. Customers who see the potential for this kind of a crime as a reason for not doing their financial business over the internet are over-reacting, but that's little comfort in the face of fear.
The banks are liable for any stolen funds as a result of cyber crime. Customers will not lose money. If this particular attack is carried out, despite the public awareness in advance, it would work by using customers' own computers to access their own accounts to transfer small amounts of money. With millions of zombie computers operating, this adds up to a lot of stolen cash, but any one customer would, in theory, see only a small transaction. It's riskier for the banks than for any one customer.
Banks are hit by cyber attacks every day, and are becoming more adept at preventing breaches of security. Only the big attacks hit the news. Banks are bombarded by security threats every day, and their systems are improving exponentially for detecting and dealing with these problems.
It's fairly simple to ensure your account is not vulnerable to this particular attack. When logging into your bank account online, most banks allow you to “remember your computer.” You can then bypass a few security questions when the bank recognizes your computer's IPv4 address, a unique identifier for each internet connection. Hackers can spoof your IPv4 address or even use malware to hijack your computer so you don't even know it's accessing your bank account. It's best to disable the “remember your computer” feature. It's a little bit of a pain, but it's much more secure.
Be aware of social engineering. Email programs have become very adept at filtering out spam most of the time. You may still see emails that look very much like they are official, coming from your bank, asking you to visit the bank's website and confirm some piece of information. In reality, the bank's website is actually a hacker's website, designed to look identical to the official site. Never enter your password or any other identifying information on a website that you're accessing over an insecure connection.
Internet browsers now even identify the security certificate, so when you're visiting a secure website that's supposed to be operated by Chase, you can verify you're safe. Click the security icon in your browser's address bar for more information. Here is a screenshot of what that looks like with Chrome. (Click on the image to zoom in.)