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Security Tester Explains How $14 Million gets 'Stolen' from a Bank

By University Alliance on May 16, 2013

Security Tester Explains How $14 Million gets 'Stolen' from a Bank

Bhalla talked CNNMoney through his caper. Here, in four easy steps, is how he made himself into a millionaire. Step one, get access. Bhalla had one big advantage on actual thieves: His client gave him access to the bank's internal network. For real-world crooks, there are some surprisingly easy ways to get in.

It's possible, Bhalla said, to gain access in some places simply by logging on to the bank's wireless network -- an amenity more and more banks are providing as a service to customers. Once you're on the bank's Wi-Fi, the internal and external networks are frequently not segregated enough. It can be possible to fool the bank's other computers into thinking that your computer is a bank computer, a process known as "arp spoofing." 

Another on-ramp: Someone posing as a janitor could insert a thumb drive into a teller's system and reboot it using a new operating system, which would enable them to access the hard drive of the teller's system. From there, user names and passwords are often readable. 

Because he could simply log straight into his client's network, Bhalla and his assistants skipped the "get physical access" step and dove straight into finding the money. 

Step two, start exploring. Bhalla used "sniffer" software, available online for free, to map out which of the bank's systems were connected to each other. 

Then he "flooded" switches -- small boxes that direct data traffic -- to overwhelm the bank's internal network with data. That kind of attack turns the switch into a "hub" that broadcasts data out indiscriminately. 

The machines that the tellers use quickly became Bhalla's prime target. Again, the sniffer software was deployed to look for login information and passwords in the data flood. Eventually, one hit. He was inside a teller's machine. 

Step three, move up the ranks. Amazingly, the information being sent between the tellers' computers and the branch's main database was not encrypted. This meant passwords and bank account numbers were all out in the open. 

Step four, cash in. Rather than steal money from depositors' accounts, Bhalla just invented a new account for himself. 

"We went into the database where the accounts are and set up an account with $14 million," Bhalla explained. "We just created $14 million out of thin air."

Category: 2013 Headlines