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Smash and Grab

When the news of last week’s £240 million attempted robbery of Sumitomo Mitsui bank first broke, I was, by coincidence, on my way to the office of our National Hi-tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) at a secret address, behind a Chinese laundry in London’s Docklands. In fact, I was there to discuss the programme for next month’s eCrime Congress and it wasn’t long before those of us around the table started commenting on the remarkable similarity between the Sumitomo attempt and the first workshop scenario for the congress.

"He looks suspicious to me"

Meanwhile, back in the world of television news, speculation was rife as journalists attempted to tease-out the true details of the case, which haven’t been released for operational reasons, with a firm “No Comment” from the NHTCU. Elsewhere, security companies were busy leaping on the bandwagon, offering TV interviews and alarmist ammunition to the press. My favourite is from Mi2G, which swiftly described, “The global economic damage from all types of digital risk including overt and covert digital attacks, malware incidence, phishing scams, DDoS and spam is estimated to lie between USD 470 billion and USD 578 billion for 2004, more than double the damage calculated for 2003.”

The Sumitomo example, as you may have heard me say on the BBC or Channel 4 News serves as a salutary lesson to any organisation and not just banks, that investing in perimeter defence against Internet threats while necessary and sensible, does little or nothing to mitigate the equal risk presented by an informed and technically capable “insider.”

Contrary to what the Internet security industry, now worth over $20 billion a year, might argue, Sumitomo looks very much like an old crime, raiding the company cashbox, significantly enhanced and assisted by new technology, in this case a keylogger.

A company may attempt to protect itself by taking careful references and have processes that minimise the risk of fraud but it happens all the time. In my local paper, a woman has just been convicted of stealing £10,000 from her employer. She had opportunity and ability because she worked in the accounts department and wrote out the cheques. As it’s only £10,000 she escaped jail but six figure embezzlement cases in the City happen regularly and one wonders if the Sumitomo fraudster would have been caught if he or she had simply attempted to steal £1 million and not £240 million?

In the eCrime Congress scenario, a criminal gang infiltrates a legitimate IT contractor tasked with upgrading the company’s systems from Windows NT to Windows 2000. They install key logging software on ostensibly secure systems and then wait for an opportunity to transfer large sums of money to a series of waiting accounts in countries where fraud and eCrime legislation is at its weakest.

In fundamental terms, the company in the example has outsourced both its migration and its risk to a third-party, which doesn’t need to “hack” through the perimeter firewall because it is already inside and carrying all the necessary credentials to “own” the organisation.

While its topical to go a little “overboard” when discussing the corporate risk presented by hackers and identity theft, organisations of every size need to grasp the message that while technology acts as a business enabler, it also enables crooked employees to rob a company blind more easily than at any time in human history and that if and they do the level of personal risk is rather more attractive than using a JCB to steal a cash point or even holding up the Northern Bank.


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