Hackers nick $60m from Taiwanese bank in tailored SWIFT attack

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Arrests after customized malware apparently used to drain millions

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Hackers managed to pinch $60m from the Far Eastern International Bank in Taiwan by infiltrating its computers last week. Now, most of the money has been recovered, and two arrests have been made in connection with the cyber-heist.

On Friday, the bank admitted malware managed to get into PCs and servers within its organization, and, crucially, onto its SWIFT terminal used for transferring funds between financial institutions across the world.

The malware’s masterminds, once on the network, managed to harvest the credentials needed to commandeer the terminal and drain money out of the bank. By the time staff noticed the weird transactions, $60m had already been wired to banks in the US, Cambodia and Sri Lanka.

Far Eastern vice president Liu Lung-kuang claimed, as they always do, the software nasty used in the attack was of a type never seen before. No customer information was accessed during the hackers’ raid, he said, and the bank would cover any losses.

According to the Taipei Times, the Taiwanese Premier William Lai has thrust a probe into the affair, and has asked the banking sector to investigate. Interpol has already begun its inquiries, and – thanks to security mechanism introduced between banks – all but $500,000 has now been recovered.

Two arrests connected to the theft have been made in Sri Lanka and, according to the Colombo Gazette, one of them is Shalila Moonesinghe. He’s the head of the state-run Litro Gas company and was cuffed after police allegedly found $1.1m of the Taiwanese funds in his personal bank account. Another suspect is still at large.

There has been a spate of attacks against banks to subvert the SWIFT system in the past, with the largest such heist coming in February 2016 when hackers unknown (possibly from North Korea) stole $81m while trying to pull off the first $1bn electronic cyber-robbery. SWIFT has said it is toughening up its network’s security but it seems it, and the banking sector as a whole, needs to be more on their toes. ®

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