Hats off to local SecureWorks for detecting and thwarting the massive BigBoss Russian check counterfeiting ring. Their Counter Threat Unit (yes, 24 fans, there really is a CTU) uncovered an operation used to create over $9 million in counterfeit checks over the past year.
It was a sophisticated attack utilizing ZeuS trojans, SQL injection, a couple thousand infected computers, and a VPN to transmit stolen data. The perps stole over 200,000 check images from archive services and used these to create counterfeit checks. They then overnighted these checks to U.S. recipients (drawn from a stolen database of job seekers) who were to deposit the checks and wire some of the funds back to them. These unwitting money mules (who thought they were job candidates) did become suspicious, so the plan was apparently not very successful.
Compared with credit card fraud, widespread check fraud is less common and is typically easier to resolve. However, check authorization systems are incomplete, so prevention is more difficult. But solutions are well within reach, such as a secure national shared database of positive pay, authorization, negative list, and “stop” information that could be accessible to everyone, not just large commercial customers. This could plug one of the last big security holes in our bank accounts.