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Is Swift Bank Network Losing War Against Cyber Attacks?

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Swift, a global money transfer network used by banks, has suffered gaps in security standards that have resulted in at least three breaches – in Vietnam, Bangladesh and Ecuador, according to The Wall Street Journal.

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The hackers were able to gain access to Swift access codes and deliver authenticated yet fraudulent fund transfer requests. The network did not become aware of the incidents in Ecuador or Vietnam until after the fact. Hackers stole $9 million from an Ecuador lender last year and $81 million from the central bank of Bangladesh in February.

A former Swift official said the network has known its user connections are its weakest link and is in need of improvement. Leonard Schrank, who served as chief executive until 2007 after 15 years in that role, said the breaches are a big wake up call.

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Swift Alerts Users To Threat

Swift, in response to the thefts, urged users in a memo Friday to improve security and reminded them they are required to inform the network immediately of any suspected fraud.

A Swift board committee is examining ways to support users’ efforts to secure systems and share information about cyber threats. The network has repeatedly said that its messaging network has not been infiltrated and that the attacks are on account of problems with users’ security.

A Swift spokesperson said the management of local systems, credentials and authorization is the customers’ responsibility.

The customer notice indicates Swift is addressing the threat, Schrank said. An additional step would be to have an “anomaly detector” that would delay suspect message traffic until it can be confirmed. Another option would be to require a stronger separation between Swift systems and banks’ networks.

Network Expands To 11,000 Banks

The network began in 1973 as a cooperative among 239 banks seeking a way to communicate about cross-border payments. The network now connects 11,000 banks and other players that sent more than 25 million messages per day on average in April.

The wide range of technologies and security levels among customers in more than 200 countries makes the security challenge worse. Every user receives a unique bank identifier code containing eight characters. A smart card on the Swift terminal at the client’s end authenticates every bank’s credentials.

Technology developments have enhanced the system’s capacity and use, but they have also made it more vulnerable. Instead of walking down a hall to a Swift terminal as they did in the past, users are now automatically connected to broader bank networks.

Under a program called “4 Pillars,” Swift focused on minimizing downtime and securing its core.

The first iteration of that work addressed avoiding system breakdowns and minimizing recovery times, according to a 2006 annual report. The second iteration focused on disaster recovery and physical security at Swift sites.

Vulnerabilities Exist

The recent threats have emerged near the network’s edges. More attacks risk damaging the network’s credibility and its utility should users have to check every order.

Steve Durbin, managing director of the Information Security Forum, a not-for-profit organization for global corporations, said the hub has a responsibility to make sure the “spokes” have the proper security in place. He said the system cannot have one of the third parties seen as a weak link since it destroys confidence in the system.

The attack on Bangladesh’s central bank exposed the first weak link. The attack resulted in an $81 million loss from its account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

An official for the Bangladesh Bank who did not want to be named said the bank never changed its Swift passwords when hackers breached a computer operated by a staffer in late 2015 until the thieves got the credentials to the Swift terminal and ordered the transfers in February.

A spokesman for Bangladesh Bank, Subhankar Saha, said the bank did not know any of its computers were compromised until the February heist. As many as six to eight bank employees had access to the bank’s Swift credentials, he said. He did not comment on whether the passwords provided to the employees were changed or regularly rotated.

Also read: Panicking Swift urges banks to report cyber heists

Who’s Responsible?

The two parties – Swift and Bangladesh Bank – have argued over who is responsible for the compromised part of the system. The bank is responsible for the server on the premises, Swift said. The server provides the interface for bank computers to connect to the Swift network.

The bank said Swift installed the equipment, and its operations needed technical knowledge possessed by Swift technicians.

Attempts to probe payment networks include at attack in 2009 in which hackers sent fake emails by the millions to medium-size and small businesses. The emails appeared to be from a separate U.S. transfer network that a group called Nacha manages. Recipients who clicked the malware allowed the hackers to capture the users’ credential as they accessed the bank’s website.

Additional incidents could emerge. A note indicated it knew of recent fraud at a “small number” of customers, Swift said.

Bangladesh Attackers Active

FireEye Inc., a cybersecurity firm, said the Bangladesh attackers remain active.

Bryce Boland, chief technology officer at FireEye’s Asia Pacific region, said he is seeing the same threat actors target some of the company’s customers. He said he is confident other breaches are occurring.

J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. has started to take steps to secure its Swift interface by limiting access by some employees, people familiar with the bank said. The action is part of the bank’s policy of reviewing user access to certain systems after news breaks about security threats.

Lisa Sotto, who operates the Hunton & Williams LLP law firm’s privacy and security practice, said no single entity can control another entity’s systems, but tentacles are needed throughout the network.

Featured image from Shutterstock and SWIFT.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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3.9 stars on average, based on 8 rated postsLester Coleman is a veteran business journalist based in the United States. He has covered the payments industry for several years and is available for writing assignments.




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Coincheck Hackers Launder 40% of Stolen NEM Funds, Experts Say

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The hackers behind Coincheck’s massive NEM heist have successfully offloaded 40% of the stolen funds, according to new research by Tokyo-based consultancy group L Plus. The successful money laundering campaign highlights the ongoing challenges authorities face in bringing cyber criminals to justice.

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Hackers Launder NEM

Analysts at L Plus believe that roughly 200 million NEM tokens, worth $79 million, have already been laundered through the dark web. However, the hackers likely pocketed a much smaller amount amid ongoing efforts to blacklist the tokens.

Nikkei Asian Review reported Monday that Coincheck was targeted with “suspicious traffic” for weeks leading up to the Jan. 26 heist. Citing a person close to the investigation, Nikkei said the attackers hacked an employee email and stole a private key needed to transfer the NEM tokens to the desired accounts. L Plus indicated that the attacker must have repeatedly accessed the Coincheck server to obtain the private key.

When the hack took place, the stolen NEM tokens were worth more than $400 million. Today, they are worth less than half that amount. The identity of the attackers remains unknown to this day. However, authorities have speculated that North Korea may have been responsible for the attack.

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Coincheck plans to resume operations this week following a government-mandated freeze on all trading activity.

Japan Boosts Oversight

The attack has prompted Japan’s financial regulators to step up their oversight efforts of the cryptocurrency market. Last week, regulators penalized seven exchanges after deeming their internal controls insufficient to deal with a cyber attack.

Japan’s Financial Services Agency (FSA) slapped two exchanges – FSHO and Bit Station – with month-long suspensions. The remaining five exchanges – Bicrements, Coincheck, GMO Coin, Mr. Exchange and Tech Bureau – were given business improvement orders.

The FSA began conducting on-site inspections in late January following the Coincheck attack. Regulators have uncovered several issues, including a lack of customer protection measures and insufficient anti-money laundering controls.

Japan remains one of the most welcoming jurisdictions for cryptocurrency trading, but repeated attacks may prompt regulators to reconsider their relatively lax approach. Digital currency exchanges in Japan and elsewhere face a growing threat from cyber criminals looking to capitalize on the rising value of digital assets.

Disclaimer: The author owns bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. He holds investment positions in the coins, but does not engage in short-term or day-trading.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.5 stars on average, based on 353 rated postsSam Bourgi is Chief Editor to Hacked.com, where he specializes in cryptocurrency, economics and the broader financial markets. Sam has nearly eight years of progressive experience as an analyst, writer and financial market commentator where he has contributed to the world's foremost newscasts.




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Skepticism Grows Over BitGrail’s Supposed $167 Million Hack

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A relatively unknown cryptocurrency exchange by the name of BitGrail has informed its users of a coordinated cyber attack targeting Nano (XRB) tokens. However, the incident does not appear to be holding up to scrutiny after the founder of the exchange made an odd request to the developers of Nano shortly after discovering the alleged theft.

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BitGrail Exchange Allegedly Compromised

The Italian exchange issued a notice to its clients last week informing them that 17 million XRB tokens were compromised in a cyber attack. The XRB token, formerly known known as Raiblocks, is valued at $9.80 at the time of writing for a total market cap of $1.3 billion. That puts the total monetary loss of the supposed heist at nearly $167 million.

Parts of the notice have been translated into English from the original Italian by Tech Crunch, a media company dedicated to startups and technology news. According to the agency,  BitGrail has stated the following:

“… Internal checks revealed unauthorized transactions which led to a 17 million Nano shortfall, an amount forming part of the wallet managed by BitGrail… Today a charge about those fraudulent activities has been submitted to the competent authorities and now is under police investigation.”

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The notice indicated that all transactions have been put on hold until authorities complete their investigation.

Very little is known about BitGrail, as it is not listed among the 183 exchanges whose volume is ranked by CoinMarketCap.

Suspicion Grows

Unlike other crypto heists, the circumstances surrounding the alleged BitGrail attack have been met with widespread suspicion. As David Z. Morris of Fortune rightly notes, this isn’t the first time BitGrail has suspended Nano withdrawals. The same thing happened in early January when the exchange halted not only Nano, but Lisk and CryptoForecast transactions as well.

The suspension was followed by an announcement that the exchange was taking measured steps to verify users and enforce anti-money laundering requirements. It was around this time that users became suspicious that BitGrail was going to cut and run with their tokens.

BitGrail founder Francesco Firano made an unusual request to the developers of Nano following the alleged attack: he asked them to fork their record, a move that would essentially restore the stolen funds.

Nano officially rejected the request on Friday, the day after Firano supposedly discovered the stolen coins. In a post that appeared on the Nano Medium page, the team said:

“We now have sufficient reason to believe that Firano has been misleading the Nano Core Team and the community regarding the solvency of the BitGrail exchange for a significant period of time.”

Last month, hackers made off with more than $400 million worth of NEM tokens stolen from Coincheck, a Japan-based cryptocurrency exchange. The coins have yet to be recovered and the perpetrators remain at large. In 2014, a cyber heist brought down Mt Gox, which was the world’s largest exchange.

Disclaimer: The author owns bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. He holds investment positions in the coins, but does not engage in short-term or day-trading.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.5 stars on average, based on 353 rated postsSam Bourgi is Chief Editor to Hacked.com, where he specializes in cryptocurrency, economics and the broader financial markets. Sam has nearly eight years of progressive experience as an analyst, writer and financial market commentator where he has contributed to the world's foremost newscasts.




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Coincheck Hackers Are Trying to Sell Their Stolen NEM Coins

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The hackers behind the biggest crypto heist of all time are attempting to sell their stolen coins, according to an executive at the NEM Foundation. The revelations are the latest in a four-day saga that has authorities still struggling to identify perpetrators or locate the account in receipt of the stolen funds.

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Hackers Try to Profit

Jeff McDonald, Vice President of the NEM Foundation, said Tuesday that his organization had traced stolen XEM coins to an unidentified address. It was here that the thief tried to unload the stolen funds onto six online exchanges for the purpose of selling them. McDonald said the exchanges have since been notified.

It was not immediately apparent how many of the stolen coins were spent or even the whereabouts of the account. A spokeswoman at the NEM Foundation later said the attacker sent the cryptocurrency to several random accounts in 100-token increments.

Last Friday, the attackers made off with more than $400 million worth of NEM tokens from Japanese cryptocurrency exchange Coincheck. The monetary value of the heist has fluctuated several times over the past four days, reflecting regular price moves in NEM’s native XEM token. However, Coincheck said it would reimburse account holders at a rate of 81 U.S. cents per token, which reflects the average price between Jan. 26 and 27.

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Coincheck has been fined administrative penalties for failing to secure client funds. It was later revealed by the executive management team that the exchange failed to implement basic security features, such as multi-signature capability and cold storage. Rather, the XEM tokens were held in accounts connected to the internet.

Although the NEM Foundation is trying to prevent the liquidation of stolen funds, MacDonald said the attackers will likely get away with some of the money. However, the likelihood that they spend all of it is virtually zero given the market’s underlying liquidity constraints.

NEM Price Volatility

News of the heist on Friday triggered significant volatility in the price of XEM and the broader cryptocurrency market. Following a brief recovery, XEM has declined steadily over the past three days, with prices reaching new six-week lows on Tuesday. The coin touched a session low of 79 cents on volumes of more than $32 million. At press time, the coin was worth a little more than 80 cents.

Even with the decline, NEM held on to tenth spot in the global cryptocurrency rankings based on market cap. The coin’s overall value remains well north of $7 billion, according to CCN.

Disclaimer: The author owns bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. He holds investment positions in the coins, but does not engage in short-term or day-trading.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.5 stars on average, based on 353 rated postsSam Bourgi is Chief Editor to Hacked.com, where he specializes in cryptocurrency, economics and the broader financial markets. Sam has nearly eight years of progressive experience as an analyst, writer and financial market commentator where he has contributed to the world's foremost newscasts.




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