Man In The Browser attacks scare banking world

Pierluigi Paganini September 05, 2013

The majority of financial service professionals considers Man In The Browser as the greatest threat to online banking, cybercrime increases its use.

Man In The Browser attack, DDoS attacks, phishing are most insidious cyber threats against banking institutions. Last statistics proposed by principal security firms confirm that online banking is considered a lucrative business for cybercrime.

The large diffusion of online banking platforms, their openness to mobile and social networking platforms are attracting the attention of cyber-criminals that are concentrating their effort against online banking services. The first form of attacks was considered phishing, using social engineering tricks crocks are able to obtain banking credentials from unaware banking customers.

Unfortunately also malware authors concentrated their efforts to hit the growing sector developing new malicious code able to steal banking credentials from victims often including key-loggers agent and screen grabbing modules.

The response of banking world was the improvement of authentication processes, a classic example is represented by rapid diffusion for multi-factor authentication such as OTPs (e.g. One-time passwords device/service (SMS, email), a hardware token).

The cybercrime ecosystem has widely used the man-in-the-browser attacks to overtake defense systems, let’s see what it is and which are the countermeasure that could be really effective for user’s security.  The majority of financial institutions in numerous surveys has considered Man In The Browser as the greatest threat to online banking. In the classic scheme for the “Man in the Middle” attack the attacker lies between the victim client and the banking server, it’s clear that the introduction of encrypting traffic could make ineffective the technique.

In the Man-in-the-browser schema the attackers integrate the concept proper of the above methods with the use of malicious code that infects victims client component such as the browser. Usually MITB appears in the form of BHO (Browser Helper Object)/Active-X Controls/Browser Extension/Add-on/Plugin/ API – Hooking.

Man-in-the-browser attack is based on the presence on the victim machine of a proxy malware that infects the user’s browser exploiting its vulnerabilities. The malware is able to modify transaction content or conduct operations for the victims in a completely covert fashion. The malware is usually able to hide its transactions to the client altering the content proposed by the browser.

man in the browser

The malware is able to bypass multi-factor authentication, once the bank website authenticates the user that has provided the correct credentials the Trojan horse waits for the transactions to modify its content. The malicious code is also able to provide evidence of the success of the user’s transaction altering the content displayed by the browsers once executed.

The Man In The Browser attack is very insidious because neither the bank nor the user can detect it, despite a multifactor authentication process, CAPTCHA or other forms of challenge-response authentication are implemented. Security experts find that most Internet users (73%) cannot distinguish between real and fake pop up warning messages neither have the possibility to distinguish malware crafted content.

The majority of financial service professionals in a survey considered Man In The Browser to be the greatest threat to online banking, malware such as Zeus, Carberp, Sinowal  and Clampi have inbuilt MITB capabilities. Recently a Trusteer’s security team identified a new instance of the Ramnit malware that uses the HTML injection to target the digital distribution platform for online gaming Steam.

Unfortunate end-users are still vulnerable to Man In The Browser attacks, their unique responsibility it to try to limit the occasions of exposure to attacks (e.g. Phishing) that could allow the infection of their system.

The most efficient countermeasure is considered out of Band transaction verification containing transaction details along with OTP and on bank side the adoption of a Fraud detection based on User behavior profiling.

In the following table a useful table that resumes principal countermeasures adopted against a Man-in-the-browser attack and their real effectiveness.

Man In The- Browser attack on the rise


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Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – Man In The Browser, banking, cybercrime)

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