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Cyberthreat Level: High
It didn't take long. Regular readers may remember our coverage of the Stuxnet virus, those who don't remember the article can read it here.
We described how Stuxnet was the first of its kind in targeting, and subsequently destroying, machinery. We detailed how this type of threat can spell doom should one nation attack another's infrastructure, such as their water supply. And that we could be seeing a new type of warfare conducted in cyberspace rather than the battlefield.
A group called Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters is claiming responsibility for a wave of threats targeting U.S. banks. The group has been associated with Hamas.
And it really wasn't too hard since malware build kits are readily available on criminal websites. Tool kits like those described in our coverage of the ZeuS Trojan in the August 17, 2010 issue of GCFlash.
The threat is so high that the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (FS-ISAC) has raised the U.S. banking industry's cyberthreat level from "elevated" to "high". This is like the Dept. of Homeland Security telling us we're in imminent danger of a terrorist strike.
The threat targets small to medium size banks, but the big guys aren't immune either. Bank of America and Chase were hit September 18th and 19th respectively. Wells Fargo's site had outages on September 25th. PNC and U.S. Bank both saw problems on September 26th.
Three separate types of attacks have been observed, yet there are enough similarities to recognize them as being linked. It starts with a phishing email. An employee thinks it's a legitimate message and clicks the link. Or opens an attachment. Malware downloads that captures the login credentials of anyone who uses that workstation.
Once the crooks have an employee's login info, they can conduct every transaction that the victim can; skimming money from accounts, wire transfers, account takeovers, all kinds of bad things.
Understand that this type of attack can happen to anyone, regardless if you're a bank employee. It's called a spear phishing attack. Employees inside a specific organization are targeted for a distinct purpose. Once inside your company's computer network, a crook has access to all the same information you have.
In fact, just this morning we learned that a Chinese group used this exact method last month to compromise a White House computer on a non-classified network. We're told that these types of attacks are not infrequent, but success is rare.
Not all are after information. Sometimes it's sabotage - cause as much damage to a system as they can. Be watchful for unsolicited emails with links or attachments. Do not click on anything you're not expecting, no matter where you work.
A common thread in this current wave of attacks is that a bank's website will go down. It's actually a Dedicated Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. An external party targets a website with so much traffic that it overloads the server, leaving it unable to respond.
The DDoS attack is a subterfuge. While the institution is troubleshooting its website problem, crooks are sneaking in the back door, siphoning money.
Tracking systems and information-sharing between the FBI and FS-ISAC are working. The threat was detected early, banks and credit unions were warned to strengthen their security measures. Institutions have time to prepare and protect against attack.
GCF employees are trained to be on guard for anything that appears suspicious. We have to be. We made a commitment to our customers when they placed their trust in us. Safeguarding your money, and your personal information, is our primary responsibility. And it's something we take quite seriously.
We have a structured policy in place for employees to adhere to in case somebody tries to infiltrate our system. If you wait to be compromised to develop a plan, it's too late to react in a prompt manner. A significant amount of damage can occur before you decide what steps to take. Our employees already know exactly how to minimize effects of any attack.
Our IT department is committed to maintaining the highest security standards the industry has to offer. Not only today, technology changes far too quickly to rest on one's laurels. We strive to stay ahead of the curve.
You can help. GCF Bank will never send an email with attachments, embedded links or requesting personal information. Should you receive something of this nature, forward it immediately to email@example.com so we can research the matter. Your security is of the utmost importance to us.
National (Fill-In-Blank) Month
I had a motorcycle I called Pearl. Her purple-on-purple flamed paint scheme glistened on the road. And the throaty rumble of her pipes sounded like Janis Joplin belting out a soulful rendition of Summertime.
Have you ever given an identity to any of your vehicles? If not, today may be a good time to do so. It's "National Name Your Car Day."
National Month or Day designations are used quite liberally by various governments, groups and organizations to raise awareness of an issue, commemorate a group or event, or celebrate something.
October boasts some of my personal favorite things to commemorate. It holds claim as the national awareness month for pizza, pasta, seafood, pork, pretzels and dessert. On a not-so-serious note, it's also National Toilet Tank Repair Month. Some observances just aren't as significant as others.
October also brings awareness of AIDS, depression and bullying prevention.
We'll talk here in more detail about two of the most notable causes focused on during the month of October.
It's deemed manly for those of the male gender to wear pink in October. NFL players will don pink gloves or other apparel. NASCAR racecars are clad in pink paint schemes, drivers in pink firesuits.
Over a dozen famous worldwide landmarks will be illuminated by pink lights. Among them are the Empire State Building and Niagara Falls.
It's National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, founded in 1985 as a partnership between the American Cancer Society and a pharmaceutical company that makes several anti-breast cancer drugs. Its goal is simply to promote mammography as the most effective weapon in the fight against breast cancer.
Aside from non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States. Male breast cancer is on the rise as well.
Awareness seems to be working. From 1999 to 2005, breast cancer incidence rates in the U.S. decreased by about two percent per year in women aged 50 and older. Making the connection between hormone replacement therapy and increased risk of the disease is thought to be a major factor. Early detection through mammograms is the most effective weapon in the fight against this killer disease.
"Our Shared Responsibility" is the theme for this year's National Cyber Security Awareness Month. Since 2001, efforts have grown to make people aware that all of us have a role in protecting our digital lives.
No individual, business or government entity holds sole responsibility for Internet security. Each must maintain their own part or risk a collective impact for the others.
Three simple concepts are key to your online safety:
GCF Bank takes online security seriously. Articles like the above Cyberthreat Level: High frequently grace the pages of GCFlash, and remain on our website for your future reference.
Our online Security Center offers whatever tools or information you may need to assure your online safety. Not only for your computer but mobile as well.
It takes continued diligence to remain safe online. By the time the public becomes aware of a scam and learns to avoid it, cybercriminals already have the next big threat type in the wild. Don't get caught off guard.
I won't mention the market's continued sideways slide, lest I begin to sound repetitive.
In the deafening roar of the onslaught of political ads (mostly negative) of this election season, it is easy to become numb to political issues. After all, each side is saying, make that screaming, that the opposing side wants to ruin the country. Although neither side wants any such outcome, there are stark, almost fanatical differences in the direction each group wants to steer the country.
Unfortunately, there are very, very few opinions in between the extremes that get aired. When was the last time you heard a talking head mention a balance of payments system? Or a negative income tax? Or the next round of necessary public infrastructure investment?
I guess such brainy topics don't make for very entertaining news. More fun screaming. Thanks, media.
Speaking of the media, no less than the Philadelphia Enquirer, seldom a critic of social programs, recently published some startling statistics on dependency: In Pennsylvania, there are 2.7 million welfare recipients. There are only about six million residents employed in the Commonwealth. Wow. That makes barely two workers for every welfare recipient.
Stated differently, in addition to a worker providing for themselves and their own dependents, they must pick up the tab for nearly one half of one welfare recipient (that is the math, like it or not). Once again, WOW.
By any standard, the safety net is now huge in PA - and getting larger. I only use PA because the statistics are convenient, but a similar ratio exists in many, if not most other states.
Unfortunately, most dependency, and the programs aimed at assisting the dependent invariably lead to greater dependency. And so on.
This is a financial column, so I will leave it to the reader to make a judgment about how much such dependency is real and justified. I will stick to the financial reality and state that the current state of affairs is not sustainable - from a financial perspective alone.
With so great a share of government revenue going to transfer payments from one group of citizens to another, there are not ample funds remaining for the other legitimate and necessary functions of government. Such functions include providing for a defense, building and maintain roads and airports, solving crimes, enforcing contracts, etc.
Since there is simply is not enough money to do both, governments have been forced to borrow to make ends meet. And borrow. And borrow. With 16 trillion in debt, the United States borrows about 40 cents, nearly half, of every dollar it spends. And you don't even have to be an economist to conclude that such a plan is unsustainable. Is this the legacy we want to leave our children? I think not...
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