Imagine losing a billion dollars in just a matter of hours. Sounds like something out of a Hollywood movie, right? But this incredible heist actually happened to the Bangladesh Central Bank in February 2016. What seemed like a simple printer malfunction turned out to be the starting point of an astounding cyber attack that shook the world of international banking. Let’s dive into the details and uncover the shocking truth behind this audacious crime.
The Perfect Storm
It all started nine months before that fateful day. In May 2015, a group of men opened four bank accounts with a measly $500 at the RCBC Bank in the Philippines. Little did anyone know that this seemingly insignificant event would set the stage for one of the biggest bank heists in history.
Fast forward to early 2016, and the Bangladesh Central Bank was facing a major problem – their printer stopped working. This may seem like a minor issue, but it would soon reveal a much larger problem. As the printer was fixed and the backlog of transaction reports started rolling out, it became evident that something was seriously wrong. Thirty-five suspicious payment orders for exorbitant amounts of money had been transferred from the Bangladesh Bank’s own account to various other accounts around the world. Panic set in as the workers desperately tried to stop the payments, but it was too late. Bangladesh had just lost nearly a billion dollars.
The Elaborate Scheme
But how did this audacious theft happen? It all began with a simple click on an infected email. A malware program was installed in the Bangladesh Bank’s computer systems, allowing intruders to gain access to the inner workings of the bank. Hiding in plain sight, these hackers studied the bank’s operations, waiting for the opportune moment to strike.
That moment came when the hackers entered the bank’s system on a Thursday evening, just as the bank was closing for the weekend. Using the bank’s legitimate SWIFT credentials, they took control of the SWIFT terminals and initiated the transfer of funds. SWIFT, a global payment network, is designed to be virtually unbreachable. However, if a bank’s individual cybersecurity is lacking, SWIFT can be exploited. And that’s exactly what the hackers did.
The Delays that Worked in the Hackers’ Favor
Every step of the way, the hackers encountered delays that worked in their favor. The printer malfunction, the long weekends in Bangladesh and the US, even Chinese New Year in the Philippines – all these factors gave the hackers valuable time to carry out their scheme undetected. By the time the Bangladesh Bank realized what was happening, it was too late to stop all the transfers.
In the end, $951 million was sent via SWIFT to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. While $870 million was blocked due to suspicions raised by the New York Fed, $81 million still made it through. This remaining amount was sent to four dormant accounts at the RCBC Bank in the Philippines. The money was swiftly withdrawn and laundered through casinos, effectively disappearing without a trace.
The Lazarus Connection
As cybersecurity experts investigated the malware used in the Bangladesh Bank heist, they discovered striking similarities with other cyber attacks around the world. This led them to a group called Lazarus, which was responsible for a series of global attacks on financial institutions and cyber terrorism campaigns. But what shocked investigators even more was the connection they found to a North Korean IP address. The evidence pointed towards North Korea as the mastermind behind these audacious crimes.
The International Implications
If North Korea is indeed behind these attacks, it would be the first known case of a nation state robbing banks. This revelation raises serious concerns about the potential for cyber attacks on political campaigns, weapons systems, civilian bank accounts, and even everyday individuals. The international implications of such actions are profound and could have far-reaching consequences.
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