SWIFT discloses more cyber thefts

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NEW YORK: SWIFT, the global financial messaging system, on Thursday disclosed new hacking attacks on its member banks as it pressured them to comply with security procedures instituted after February’s high-profile $81 million heist at Bangladesh Bank.
In a private letter to clients, SWIFT said that new cyber-theft attempts — some of them successful — have surfaced since June, when it last updated customers on a string of attacks discovered after the attack on the Bangladesh central bank. “Customers’ environments have been compromised, and subsequent attempts (were) made to send fraudulent payment instructions,” according to a copy of the letter reviewed by Reuters. “The threat is persistent, adaptive and sophisticated — and it is here to stay.”
The disclosure suggests that cyber thieves may have ramped up their efforts following the Bangladesh Bank heist, and that they specifically targeted banks with lax security procedures for SWIFT-enabled transfers.
The Brussels-based firm, a member-owned cooperative, indicated in the letter that some victims in the new attacks lost money, but did not say how much was taken or how many of the attempted hacks succeeded. It did not identify specific victims, but said the banks varied in size and geography and used different methods for accessing SWIFT.
A SWIFT spokeswoman declined to elaborate on the recently uncovered incidents or the security issues detailed in the letter, saying the firm does not discuss affairs of specific customers.
All the victims shared one thing in common: Weaknesses in local security that attackers exploited to compromise local networks and send fraudulent messages requesting money transfers, according to the letter. Accounts of the attack on Bangladesh Bank suggest that weak security procedures there made it easier to hack into computers used to send SWIFT messages requesting large money transfers. The bank lacked a firewall and used second-hand, $10 electronic switches to network those computers, according to the Bangladesh police.
SWIFT has repeatedly pushed banks to implement new security measures rolled out after the Bangladesh heist, including stronger systems for authenticating users and updates to its software for sending and receiving messages. But it has been difficult for SWIFT to force banks to comply because the nonprofit cooperative lacks regulatory authority over its members.
SWIFT told banks Thursday that it might report them to regulators and banking partners if they failed to meet a November 19 deadline for installing the latest version of its software, which includes new security features designed to thwart the type of attacks described in its letter.