SWIFT members facing more cyberattacks


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Reuters report details mounting cyber threats, money laundering

The scourge of cybertheft involving bank accounts is picking up steam, and the SWIFT network is warning banks to evaluate their vulnerabilities immediately.

In a Reuters exclusive that ran Monday, reporters detailed the rise in cyberattacks that target member banks’ usage of the SWIFT messaging system, which facilitates fund transfers of “trillions of dollars” each day. The report cited a previously private letter sent by SWIFT to member banks in early November; the letter detailed the increasing levels of sophistication in attacks on banks and the growing threat.

The most successful attack to date was the $81 million stolen from the Central Bank of Bangladesh in February of 2016. The Reuters report provides additional details of the tactics and the process through which the stolen funds were laundered in the Philippines and in Sri Lanka. Reuters’ sources assert that bank-related arrests in the Bangladesh heist are imminent.

Central to the success of that attack was carefully planned timing, which included initiation on a Friday, the start of the weekend in Bangladesh; the U.S. weekend of Saturday and Sunday, during which the New York Fed is not staffed for banking; and that particular Monday, which was a holiday in the Philippines. This timing provided the cyberthieves with a long window in which to commit the heist, cover their tracks inside the Bangladeshi bank, and launder the money in the Philippines. A variety of communication breakdowns further contributed to delays in stopping the various transfers of stolen funds.

The SWIFT letter, viewed by Reuters reporters, described the threat to member banks as “very persistent, adaptive and sophisticated – and it is here to stay.” Stephen Gilderdale of SWIFT’s Customer Security Program told Reuters that there have been “a meaningful number” of attacks and that about a fifth of that undisclosed number have resulted in fraudulent transfers of funds.

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