SWIFT warns of new successful cyber thefts against banks

SWIFT: 80% of cyber attacks on banks are unsuccessful, but hackers are adapting

Cyber attacks targeting banks using the global transfer service SWIFT have successfully stolen funds in the months following February's Bangladesh central bank heist, according to a recently discovered letter sent to banks in November.

In the letter, sent on the 2 November to banks worldwide and uncovered today by Reuters, SWIFT warned that due to increasingly sophisticated attacks, there was an escalating threat against banks' systems. It read: "The threat is very persistent, adaptive and sophisticated - and it is here to stay."

Hackers successfully transferred $81 million from Bangladesh central bank in February via the SWIFT messaging service, before some of the money was recovered by officials.

"We unfortunately continue to see cases in which some of our customers' environments are being compromised," said SWIFT in the letter, using similar tactics adopted by hackers in the Bangladesh heist. The letter stated that each attack involved customers' SWIFT account interfaces, and that its own central communications remained secure.

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Since the February attack, central and commercial banks have been targeted by a "meaningful" number of attacks, 20% of which have resulted in a loss of funds, according to Stephen Gilderdale, head of SWIFT's customer security programme, speaking to Reuters.

He added that it was difficult to tell whether the rate of attacks was increasing as before this, SWIFT did not track or receive information from clients.

Hackers are developing new ways to target bank systems, following a tightening of security worldwide after February's heist, according to the letter. A newly discovered tactic involved the use of remote control software, typically used by technicians for providing IT support services, to gain access to customer accounts.

"In 80% of the cases we have completed since the Bangladesh event there was no loss of funds," said a SWIFT spokesperson in an email to IT Pro, though they declined to comment on the letter or specific details of targeted banks.

In one case a financial service regulator warned SWIFT of an attempted attack, through a notification service only recently added to the software, according to Reuters.

However the letter urged banks to be aware of increasingly sophisticated attacks in the future that were likely to evolve over time.

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"There has been an evolution in the modus operandi, signifying that attacks are further adapting their methods," said SWIFT in the letter. "There are likely to be multiple groups of cyber attackers attempting to compromise customer environments."

The news follows a report by Symantec in October, which revealed a new group of cybercriminals had targeted banks using SWIFT in a campaign of "discreet" malware attacks.

The cybersecurity firm told IT Pro that it had logged 74 'Trojan.Odinaff' infections corresponding to individual computers, and that organisations were likely to have multiple infected machines.

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