Burlington, Wash. officials admitted that cyber-criminals had stolen more than $400,000 from the city’s bank account and also obtained individual financial data belonging to employees and some residents.
Cyber-criminals compromised systems used to run the town’s utility billing system used for sewer and storm drain charges, according to an alert posted on the town’s Website Monday morning. All customers who use the autopay feature to pay their utility bills should assume their names, bank name, account number, and routing numbers have all been compromised as well, Bryan Harrison, the city administrator, wrote in the alert. Customers should immediately contact their bank to protect their accounts.
The utility breach comes shortly after criminals electronically transferred $487,000 from Burlington’s Bank of America account to various personal and business accounts throughout the country over a two-day period, according to various local media outlets. Bank of America froze the affected account on Thursday.
City employees enrolled in the direct deposit program were also notified their account information was compromised in this breach. Like the utility residents, the city employees are advised to flag or close the accounts associated with payroll deposits to prevent fraud.
“The Finance Department notified local authorities immediately after learning of the illegal transfers and the account was frozen,” the Burlington Police Department said in a statement. “City employees participating in the city’s direct electronic payroll deposit program have been notified that their account information has been compromised.”
While the police have said the fraudulent transfers were the “result of computer hacking”, it’s not clear at this time exactly what happened. An employee with access to the account may have been phished into giving up the passwords to access the bank account; a computer could have been infected with banking malware, or some other scenario. “We really don’t know exactly how it happened,” Harrison told King 5 News, a local outlet. “Someone, either through the city system or Bank of America had actually accessed our electric authorization account,” he said.
Approximately 300 people have been affected in the town of 8,400.
There have been a number of other online heists similar to what happened to Burlington in recent years. Back in 2010, criminals broke into a TD Bank account for the town of Poughkeepsie, NY and transferred $378,000 to banks in Ukraine. The attackers made nine illegal transfers over a two-day period, of which four succeeded. TD Bank initially recovered only $95,000 of the stolen money. Last year, Pittsford, NY, lost $139,000 when criminals logged into the town’s bank account with Canandaigua National Bank & Trust.
The FBI has estimated that U.S. businesses and banks have lost hundreds of millions of dollars due to such thefts.
The FBI has issued several alerts recently warning cyber-criminals are targeting banks with fraudulent wire transfers. Small towns, credit unions, and businesses are often targeted because of mis-configured systems and less savvy users who may fall for a malware attack or phishing scam.
RSA’s fraud team also warned earlier this month of a complicated plot involving a Trojan and targeting 30 or so major banks.
While consumers are generally protected from these types of thefts by the federal government, for up to $250,000, commercial accounts generally are not. If the bank is unable to recover the funds, the money is gone for that victim business or organization. For a small town like Burlington, that can be a significant hit.