More Financial Institutions Fall Victim to SWIFT Attacks

In late June, reports surfaced of an unnamed Ukrainian bank having $10 million stolen, adding to the growing list of cyber-attacks leveraging SWIFT, the messaging system used by financial institutions around the world.

“At the current moment, dozens of banks (mostly in Ukraine and Russia) have been compromised, from which has been stolen hundreds of millions of dollars,” said the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA).

These SWIFT-related attacks often require significant time investment from cybercrimnals, but the payouts can be substantial —  including an $81 million theft from Bangladesh’s central bank in February.

According to the Kyiv Post:

[ISACA] said that such hacks usually take months to complete. After breaking into a financial institution’s internal networks, hackers will take time to study the bank’s internal processes and controls. Then, using the knowledge and access they have gathered, the hackers will begin to submit fraudulent money orders to webs of offshore companies, allowing them to siphon off millions of dollars.

“The SWIFT case — it’s actually more in line with what’s happening right now, which we call multi-dimensional attacks because it involves many areas,” said ThetaRay CEO Mark Gazit, who was a guest on this week’s Cyber Chat podcast.

The attacks shed light on the trend of some cybercriminal groups moving beyond personal information and credit card theft. Instead, they are focusing on the institutions themselves and the potentially massive payouts that come along with a successful attack.

These groups are becoming smarter and often know the inner working of banks, Gazit said.

“If you go to the dark web you can find the set of rules for banks in the United States, and some of the banks will have more than 10,000 rules. They’re all published.”

Growing Problem for Financial Organizations

Customers have an expectation of certain convenience features, and banks have to keep pace with those expectations in order to not lose business. The growing digital footprint makes those financial institutions much more susceptible to cybercrime, which is increasingly automated, Gazit said.

This means that cyber-attacks have more impact throughout organizations.

“It becomes a board issue, a CEO issue, a risk issue. Suddenly, it’s not just an issue that IT guys should deal with somewhere in back office rooms. It’s actually becoming something that relates the very core part of the business.”

On Monday, SWIFT announced that they were engaging with several security companies to assist the community by providing forensic investigations related to SWIFT products as well as providing anonymized intelligence data to help prevent future fraud.

Part of the problem around cybersecurity is that teams may be hampered by their past successes and failures, Gazit said.

“Existing organizations such as financial institutions, utility companies, they still have very good people that have extensive knowledge that is derived from the past, and sometimes past knowledge can be a curse when you try to prepare yourself against new attacks.”

He added, “I think that we’ll see more surprises, more attacks that nobody expected, more crime that people will be very much surprised how it happened or how it could happen.”

For more, listen to the full conversation with ThetaRay’s Mark Gazit about how financial sector attacks are evolving and what needs to be done to stay ahead of cybercriminals.

 

Author: Jeff Peters

SurfWatch Labs editor and host of SurfWatch Labs Cyber Chat podcast. Focused on using threat intelligence and data visualization in order to bring cybercrime to life and help make organizations safer.

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