News / Asia

    Historic Bangladesh Bank Heist Muddled in Mystery

    Bangladesh Bank Governor Atiur Rahman, center, addresses a press conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Tuesday, March 15, 2016.
    Bangladesh Bank Governor Atiur Rahman, center, addresses a press conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Tuesday, March 15, 2016.

    Finger-pointing, firings, a mysterious disappearance and threats of lawsuits are swirling around one of history’s largest cyber heists, with authorities apparently no closer to nabbing the mastermind.

    What investigators know for certain is that early last month, after nearly a year of careful planning, someone orchestrated 35 fraudulent transfer instructions to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in an attempt to steal $1 billion dollars from the Bangladesh central bank.

    The hackers were able to successfully direct transfers of $81 million to accounts in the Philippines, which has some of the world’s strictest bank secrecy laws.

    Long time planning

    The hackers had been remotely monitoring the Bangladesh central bank’s activities for several weeks and may have breached nearly three dozen of its computers, private investigators said.

    The group introduced malicious code, known as malware, into the bank’s server in Dhaka, according to an interim report from FireEye, a U.S. cybersecurity company hired by the Bangladesh Bank to investigate the theft.

    The malware was specifically designed to hijack access to the Swift network, used by financial institutions to authorize transactions through secure messaging.

    FILE - Commuters pass by the front of the Bangladesh central bank building in Dhaka.
    FILE - Commuters pass by the front of the Bangladesh central bank building in Dhaka.

    The security breach of the Brussels-based Swift system used by 3,000 financial institutions globally, the report reveals, “is part of a much larger breach that is currently under investigation.”

    Banking malware such as Tinbapore and Gootkit have been used in the recent attacks on other banks in Asia, according to cyber defense specialists.

    “Malware continues to evolve and cybercriminals are devising more creative methods to carry out their attacks,” warned Lim Chin Keng, a regional director for security solutions at F5 Networks. “Elsewhere in the region, we are already witnessing evidence of cyberattacks on banks.”

    More entry points

    An increasingly digitized banking sector is giving more vulnerable entry points to hackers.

    “The creativity of the attacks and the process by which cybercriminals are planning and carrying out their attacks definitely show how cybercriminals have stepped up their game,” Lim told VOA from Singapore. “We are taken aback with the gumption and sophistication of the recent cyber heist… to pull off what could have been one of the largest fraud attacks.”

    Cybersecurity consultants say the banks must share in the blame.

    “It should not have to take an incident like this to spur banks into action,” said Lim. “The current security solutions some banks are using do not adequately offer the level of visibility they need.”

    The Bangladesh Bank is consulting with lawyers to weigh its legal options against the American reserve bank, according to media reports in Dhaka.

    Atiur Rahman, the central bank’s governor, resigned last week to take “moral responsibility” for the breach of the bank’s operations.

    Bangladesh Finance Minister A.M.A Muhith told the Prothom Alo newspaper that Bangladesh Bank officials were "100 percent" involved in the scandal.

    "Of course! One hundred percent they are [involved]. This cannot be possible without complicity of the locals," the newspaper quoted Muhith as saying, noting the U.S. bank requires hand prints and other biometric information from central bank officials for transactions.

    FILE - Recently resigned Bangladesh central bank Governor Atiur Rahman smiles during an interview inside his office in Dhaka, October 2, 2013.FILE - Recently resigned Bangladesh central bank Governor Atiur Rahman smiles during an interview inside his office in Dhaka, October 2, 2013.
    x
    FILE - Recently resigned Bangladesh central bank Governor Atiur Rahman smiles during an interview inside his office in Dhaka, October 2, 2013.
    FILE - Recently resigned Bangladesh central bank Governor Atiur Rahman smiles during an interview inside his office in Dhaka, October 2, 2013.

    Missing expert

    A Bangladeshi information technology expert, who went missing for six days after accusing central bank officials of negligence, just as mysteriously reappeared on Wednesday.

    Tanveer Hassan Zoha was taken home by detectives who said they found him wandering around the Dhaka airport railway station, according to local media reports.

    His family alleged that Zoha, who had worked as a security specialist for the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology, had been abducted March 17 by a group of men not wearing any uniforms.

    The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has joined the probe of the cyber-heist and its agents have been seen in Dhaka conferring with government officials there.

    Tangled Philippine probe

    The head of a bank in the Philippines has gone on indefinite leave after strongly denying allegations he did anything wrong in connection with the Bangladesh money transfers.

    Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) President and CEO Lorenzo Tan “insisted on taking a leave to allow him to focus on clearing his name in the money laundering issue a board committee is investigating,” the bank said in a statement.

    A branch manager has accused Tan of ordering her to move the money.

    “I did not do anything wrong. If this is a nightmare, I want to wake up now,” Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) manager Maia Deguito told ABS-CBN television after authorities stopped her at Manila airport as she tried to leave the Philippines. “I live everyday in fear.”

    Maia S. Deguito, Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) branch manager, takes her oath prior to the start of the Philippine Senate Blue Ribbon Committee probe.
    Maia S. Deguito, Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) branch manager, takes her oath prior to the start of the Philippine Senate Blue Ribbon Committee probe.

    Several criminal complaints have been filed against Deguito and another RCBC employee for allegedly falsifying documents to open four accounts at the branch nearly nine months before the Bangladesh cyber heist.

    The bulk of the money withdrawn from the Bangladesh bank's account on February 4 was transferred into a local Philippine businessman's newly-opened dollar account.

    William Go, the sole owner of DBA Centurytex Trading, which services imports for international garment labels, has said his signature was forged to set up the account and has since sued Deguito and former RCBC officer Angela Ruth Torres.

    Deguito has alleged that Go is a good friend of Tan.

    Casino chips

    From the businessman's account the money was then briefly transferred to Philrem, a foreign exchange brokerage. Its president, Salud Bautista, told a Philippines Senate inquiry that $30 million went to casino junket operator Weikang Xu.

    Another $29 million was changed into gambling chips at the Solaire casino in Manila and $21 million went to the Eastern Hawaii Leisure Resort and Casino, in a special economic zone 600 miles north of Manila.

    Casino chips are commonly used to launder money because the exchanges quickly become anonymous.

    FILE - Casino models pose at the slot machines during the media tour of Solaire Casino in the Philippines. Casino chips are commonly used to launder money because the exchanges quickly become anonymous.
    FILE - Casino models pose at the slot machines during the media tour of Solaire Casino in the Philippines. Casino chips are commonly used to launder money because the exchanges quickly become anonymous.

    Philippines Senator Sergio Osmeña has pointed a finger at a man previously linked to illegal drug operations, Kim Wong, as the mastermind.

    Wong was not present at the Senate hearings as he was reportedly undergoing medical treatment in Singapore.

    The Senate committee has scheduled a third hearing for next Tuesday (March 29).

    “We want to be good citizens of the world. We want to cooperate with the whole world in combating crime problems of this nature,” Philippines foreign minister Jose Almendras has told reporters, noting that Bangladesh’s ambassador “was one of the very few allowed to sit in on the closed Senate executive session” with those accused of facilitating the transfers.

    Sri Lanka investigation

    Meanwhile in Sri Lanka, a court has imposed travel restrictions on six directors of the Shalika Foundation suspected of being involved in the theft from the Bangladesh central bank’s account.

    The suspects in Colombo allegedly tried to transfer $20 million to an account at Sri Lanka’s Pan Asia Bank.

    The bank became suspicious and alerted the intermediary, Deutsche Bank, because the word “foundation” was wrongly spelled as “fandation.”

    A query by the German bank to the central bank in Dhaka led to that transaction being halted.

    Additional reporting by Simone Orendain in Manila.


    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

    You May Like

    Russia Sees Brexit Impact Widespread but Temporary

    Officials, citizens react to Britain’s vote to exit European Union with mix of pleasure, understanding and concern

    Obama Encourages Entrepreneurs to Seek Global Interconnection

    President tells entrepreneurs at global summit at Stanford University to find mentors, push ahead with new ideas on day after Britain voters decide to exit EU

    Video Some US Gun Owners Support Gun Control

    Defying the stereotype, Dave Makings says he'd give up his assault rifle for a comprehensive program to reduce gun violence

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora