Maltese banking giant took entire IT systems offline to prevent €13 million cyber theft

Bank of Valletta decommissioned its systems to prevent hackers wiring money to accounts in the UK, US, Hong Kong and Czech Republic

A pile of 50 euro bank notes

Malta's oldest bank took the extraordinary step of shutting down its entire IT operations to counter an active overseas cyber attack in which hackers attempted to steal 13 million.

The Bank of Valletta (BOV) took all its primary functions offline, including its 44 branches, ATM terminals, point-of-sale (POS) services, mobile banking, and email services, around 30 minutes after hackers had breached its systems on Wednesday.

By this stage, the attackers had already attempted to move around 13 million into a series of accounts based in the UK, US, Hong Kong and the Czech Republic. These fraudulent transactions were subsequently detected, and reversed, according to the Times of Malta.

"That money did not come from the people's money and the amounts have been traced and are being reversed," said prime minister Dr Joseph Muscat addressing Malta's parliament.

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"The reason for my statement is to put people's minds at rest that their money is safe in the bank," he continued, adding his statement was not being delivered because of the government's stake in the bank, rather due to BOV's crucial role in the economy.

"It is no joke having a bank that controls half the economy shut down for a whole business day but at this stage caution trumped every other consideration."

BOV initially released a statement after detecting a "malicious external attempt on its systems", informing customers their funds were safe, and that the bank was working with local and international authorities.

The bank confirmed that the majority of its systems and functions had been restored yesterday, barring payments to third parties. This amounted to reopening its branches and bringing a host of online services such as internet and mobile banking back online.

"The Bank once again wants to reassure its clients that customer deposits and customer accounts were in no way affected by this cyber-attack," the second statement read.

"This unfortunate incident proved that the contingency plans in place and the preventive measures taken by Bank of Valletta were appropriate and that these measures safeguarded the Bank, its customers and stakeholders."

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The cyber attack demonstrates just how disruptive, and wide-reaching, the effect of a cyber attack can be, not just on the targeted organisation but the wider business community.

Another staple in Malta's financial sector APS Bank, for example, also suspended some of its banking services as a precautionary measure in light of the BOV attack, including ATM terminals as well as transactions to and from BOV accounts.

While the effect on BOV, its business operations, and customers, was significant, the damage sustained doesn't come near to that sustained by a US email provider earlier this week, whose entire infrastructure was wiped out by unknown hackers.

VFEmail revealed on Monday that hackers had been caught formatting the company's backup server, with an alert posted while the attack was still ongoing revealing the firm had "suffered catastrophic destruction".

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