Reuters: Police Say SWIFT Techs Made Bangladesh Bank More Vulnerable Before Heist

SWIFT rejects ‘baseless allegations’ that software company’s negligent security procedures had anything to do with $81 million wire transfer heist.

Three months before Bangladesh Bank was victim to an $81 million cyber heist, technicians from financial software platform company SWIFT opened the bank up to new vulnerabilities, Bangladeshi police told Reuters.  

Last month, researchers reported that highly customized malware exploited vulnerabilities in the bank’s computing environment, then hid its fraudulent behavior by tricking the SWIFT software; but it did not exploit a SWIFT vulnerability, per se. Now, police and a bank official told Reuters that SWIFT’s people, if not its platform, may be partly responsible for making the bank’s computing environment more vulnerable.

According to police, SWIFT technicians did not follow adequate security procedures when they connected the platform to a new bank transaction system that enables domestic banks and the central bank to transfer large sums between themselves. Their negligence “caused much more risk for Bangladesh Bank,” police said. In February, attackers used this system to send fraudulent messages, requesting nearly $1 billion in wire transfers. Most of them were blocked, but $81 million in transfers were successfully carried out. 

Police told Reuters the SWIFT messaging system was “widely accessible, including remote access with only a simple password,” partly because technicians left open a wireless connection they had established just for the project, after the job was finished. They also criticized SWIFT for failing to connect the two systems on a private LAN, failing to disable a USB port, choosing to use an outdated networking switch, and failing to install a firewall between the systems.  

Investigators are trying to ascertain whether these actions were a case of negligence, or whether they intentionally made the bank more vulnerable. 

SWIFT rejected the police statements, telling Reuters in a subsequent story they were “baseless allegations” and that Bangladesh Bank, not SWIFT, “is responsible for the security of its own systems interfacing with the SWIFT network and their related environment.”

Police did not provide evidence for their allegations and Reuters has not yet obtained third-party confirmation. 

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