Another SWIFT Attack Speeds Worry About Response — and Responsibility

June 6, 2016 @ 8:36 AM
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2 min read

Another day, another SWIFT attack. That’s the word from SecurityWeek, which detailed a string of fraudulent transactions between Wells Fargo and Ecuador’s Banco del Austro (BDA). Now, BDA is suing Wells Fargo while SWIFT is looking for speedy ways to safeguard its money moving service. Both the initial response and ultimate responsibility are under scrutiny as companies hope to fast-track worry-free transfers.

Third Time’s the Charm?

This is the third big SWIFT breach reported. The Vietnamese Tien Phone Bank suffered losses in 2015, and the Bangladesh Central Bank (BCB) lost $81 million in February 2016.

BDA’s attack goes further back: On Jan. 12, 2015, at least 12 fraudulent transfer requests were made to Wells Fargo, supposedly from BDA, asking the company to move $12 million to accounts in Hong Kong, Dubai and the U.S. SWIFT wasn’t in the loop until a Reuters investigation turned up court documents of the BDA/Wells Fargo lawsuit.

Unlike BCB, which blamed its losses on SWIFT, BDA is suing Wells Fargo directly. For its part, Wells Fargo said it “properly processed the wire instructions received via authenticated SWIFT messages” and therefore isn’t responsible, SecurityWeek stated.

SWIFT, meanwhile, makes the point that it can’t help anyone if companies don’t report these frauds directly. According to ITProPortal, SWIFT is adamant that the network has not been compromised.

Walk of Blame

So who’s responsible for the BDA SWIFT attack? What about Bangladesh, Vietnam or others that haven’t been reported? SC Magazine noted that there’s some evidence pointing to North Korea: It’s likely that the country’s Lazarus Group is responsible for the BCB attack and possibly other high-value SWIFT breaches. According to CNN, a federal probe has been launched to determine the extent of North Korean involvement.

Of course, pinning down attackers doesn’t patch security holes. SWIFT argued that banks need to beef up network defenses, watch more carefully for fraudulent activity and always report any SWIFT-related issues. Banks, meanwhile, are calling on SWIFT to do a better job of protecting the system from malicious access, which would in turn negate the need for increased bank oversight of the process.

Learning From the SWIFT Attack

Bottom line? It’s a chicken-and-egg scenario, but being right doesn’t really matter if millions are rapidly disappearing. As noted by Bloomberg, SWIFT is taking action to solve the problem at its end. But while CEO Gottfried Leibbrandt said it’s aiming for some “quick wins” in the near future, “the full rollout, the full shore-up, will be a matter of years.”

SWIFT is trying, but it won’t happen overnight. Response and responsibility rest with banks — at least in the near term. For BDA, suing Wells Fargo might provide some temporary relief, but with new and historic SWIFT attacks emerging, time and effort may be better spent hunting down fraudulent transactions and providing SWIFT the data it needs to slow attacker progress.

Douglas Bonderud
Freelance Writer

A freelance writer for three years, Doug Bonderud is a Western Canadian with expertise in the fields of technology and innovation. In addition to working for...
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