AML News: Sony hack and SWIFT-related heist connected?


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Intrigue deepens in heist of $81 million from Bangladesh Central Bank

If AML intrigue piques your curiosity, you’ll be fascinated by new reports that U.S. federal prosecutors are building a case linking the hack of Sony Pictures and the theft of $81 million from the New York Fed account of the Central Bank of Bangladesh. And the alleged ultimate culprit: North Korea.

The Wall Street Journal reported on March 22 that a U.S. investigation led by the FBI and federal prosecutors implicate North Korea in the one of the biggest bank robberies of all time—a robbery that used sophisticated computer hacking, cultural knowledge, insider banking knowledge, insider access to the Central Bank’s SWIFT system, and loose AML controls in the Philippines to pull off the crime.

While investigators will likely identify North Korea as the organizer and beneficiary of the heist, charges will likely focus on Chinese middlemen including individuals and businesses, according to the Journal report. Analysts expect sanctions to result in the event that alleged perpetrators cannot be brought to the U.S. for trial.

The Bangladesh heist and the Sony Pictures hack were linked by U.S. investigators after they identified striking similarities in the computer code and related tools used in both crimes. While that clearly establishes a link, some analysts believe that the publically available Sony code was appropriated and repurposed by the bank robbers.

SWIFT, which runs a widely used and highly secure money-transfer network for financial institutions, has acknowledged that multiple similar attacks have occurred including ones in Vietnam and Ecuador. SWIFT has been working with its member banks to shore up access points, servers, and procedures in banks’ home locations where the incursions have originated. SWIFT’s core network has not been breached, but some access points and technology managed by member banks themselves have proved vulnerable.


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