Eastern European cyber-crime gangs are targeting self managed superannuation funds using lawyers, brokers and fund managers to access accounts, according to cyber specialists.
"This is massive and growing," said Alex Tilley, a senior security researcher at SecureWorks, which is listed on Nasdaq, the US bourse for technology stocks.
"We have identified and are monitoring a huge increase in criminal groups probing the digital defences of large pools of managed funds in Australia."
Mr Tilley said the groups are attempting to steal log-in details of customers, financial brokers, staff members, lawyers and anyone with access to those sites that would allow them into the website.
Once in, they probe the system to see whether they can tap into the assets and then devise strategies for large scale theft. The fact that they keep doing it raises suspicions that they are being successful somewhere."
The tactics are similar to those used to steal $176 million from 5400 Trio Capital investors in 2009 without leaving a trace of where the money went.
SMSF funds are also considered a gateway into the more than $2 trillion worth of superannuation savings, the world's fourth largest pool of managed funds and a lucrative target for thieves.
Mr Tilley said well-resourced, experienced foreign crime gangs, such as the Business Club, a notorious Eastern European gang known for daring online heists, are constantly sweeping the nation's super defences for a weak link.
"The big banks have got a lot better at managing cyber criminals who are now looking elsewhere in the financial system for opportunities," Mr Tilley, a former senior technical analyst with the Australian Federal Police, said.
Mr Tilley and his global team know the operations of the crime gangs through technical analysis of software used to develop defences in a 24/7 game of algorithmic chess played at the speed of light.
Superannuation funds are engaging consultants to develop strategies to tackle rampant identity theft that could be used to fraudulently access member funds. There is a thriving business selling stolen driving licences and other popular forms of identity to create bank accounts and apply for loans.
Superannuation funds are a prized target because they offer large, stationary amounts of money typically with a lower level of monitoring by members than savings or other forms of investment accounts.
About $176 million of superannuation funds has never been recovered from the loss of two fraudulent managed investment schemes, Astarra Strategic Fund and ARP Growth Fund.
The Trio fraud identified vulnerabilities in the superannuation system. A key element of the fraud was to move the funds of Australian investors overseas, which made it much harder for Australian auditors and others to verify the existence of the funds.
Major super funds are increasingly using risk management consultants to advise on cyber criminals whose job is made easier by rampant identity theft, which is being used take out loans using the victim's details.
"Many of the criminals are incredibly creative and experienced," Mr Tilley said. "Often the criminals understand the computer systems better than those employed to protect them."
The volume and value of thefts is hard to estimate but a shift to targeting superannuation would enable a smaller number of larger thefts, Mr Tilley said.
That means rather than setting up 10 bank accounts to apply for $5000 loans they might milk a large super scheme of several hundred thousand dollars.
SMSF Association chief executive John Maroney said it had not detected any unusual behaviour.
But he suspects it will become an increasing issue as cyber crime and identity theft rises.
"It should remind trustees and scheme members that they need to be constantly vigilant," Mr Maroney said.
There are around 570,000 funds with about $654 billion under management and 1.1 million members.
SecureWorks last year tracked Trickbot and Gozi-IFSB, which are information stealing computer programs, attempting to attack banks.