Hackers hit Russian bank customers

Russian cyber criminals used malware planted on Android mobile devices to steal from domestic bank customers and were planning to target European lenders before their arrest, say investigators and sources with knowledge of the case.

ST PETERSBURG, RUSSIA (REUTERS) -  Cyber criminals from Russia used malware planted on Android mobile devices to steal from domestic bank customers, Reuters can report.

The hacking suspects - 16 of whom were arrested by Russian law enforcement authorities in November last year infected more than a million smartphones in Russia, on average compromising 3,500 devices a day.

"Once the malware was on the Android phone, they could then use the phone to send and receive text messages. In Russia, there's a common system where you can send and receive bank transfers to your friends or family just by sending a simple text message, so they did this to send the money into their own accounts," said Reuters correspondent in Russia Jack Stubbs.

Targetting customers of state lender Sberbank, Alfa Bank and online payments company Qiwi, the cyber criminals exploited weaknesses in the companies' SMS text message transfer services.

They were able to initiate transfers of up to US$120 (S$166) to one of 6,000 bank accounts they'd set up.

The hackers were also planning to target European lenders before their arrest. In the end, their campaign raised a relatively small amount, of around 50 million roubles - or S$1.2 million.

But they had obtained more sophisticated software with the plan to attack clients of banks in France and potentially other nations.

"This kind of malware exploit is particularly dangerous for banks that rely on these bank money transfers using SMS messages. This is particularly for banks in emerging economies, where there's a less developed internet infrastructure," said Stubbs.

The Russian Interior Ministry say four of the alleged hackers remain in detention while the others are under house arrest.