Newspaper article International New York Times

Cybercrime Swindle Uncovered in Brazil ; System Handling Billions in Payments Was Target, Security Researchers Say

Newspaper article International New York Times

Cybercrime Swindle Uncovered in Brazil ; System Handling Billions in Payments Was Target, Security Researchers Say

Article excerpt

Researchers said a ring had intercepted legitimate payments and redirected them to the accounts of criminals or their stand-ins.

Security researchers have uncovered what they believe is a significant cybercrime operation in Brazil that took aim at $3.75 billion in transactions by Brazilians.

It is unclear what percentage of the $3.75 billion worth of compromised transactions had actually been stolen. But if even half of that value was redirected to criminals, the scope of the swindle would eclipse any other previous electronic theft.

The thieves preyed on Boleto Bancario, or Boletos, a popular Brazilian payment method that can be issued online and paid through various channels like banks and supermarkets, said researchers at the RSA Security division of the EMC Corporation.

Researchers said the ring had been using what they called bolware -- a play on Boletos and malware, a term for software intended for illegitimate purposes -- to intercept legitimate Boletos payments and redirect them to the accounts of criminals or mules, who are people paid to stand in for the criminals.

Boletos can be used for every kind of transaction, whether telephone bills, health insurance premiums, mortgages or school tuition. Over six billion were issued last year, according to Brazil's central bank. In a country where many lack bank accounts and do not trust the postal service enough to send checks by mail, it is common to see long lines at banks as Brazilians carry their Boletos to pay their bills.

Bolware was first detected in 2012, but this is the first time that security researchers have been able to trace bolware to a single criminal ring and determine the scope of compromised transactions.

RSA researchers in Brazil, Israel and the United States studied 19 variants of bolware for three months. Using digital logs, they were able to trace the bolware to what they believe is one group in Brazil. Based on the logs, researchers determined that 192,227 victims had been affected and 495,793 Boletos transactions worth $3.75 billion were hit.

"Cybercrime is a lot more rampant in Brazil than it is in the United States, and in many ways Brazil has been the trendsetter in cybercrime," said Avivah Litan, a cybersecurity analyst at Gartner. …

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