Snatch: Why do hackers attack financial transfer system SWIFT

SWIFT system is daily used for transfers and payments on billions of dollars by thousands of financial institutions worldwide. At the end of April 2016 the organization has warned customers about the growing number of hackers attacks, in which attackers could send malicious messages through the system. The experts in this field has discussed the possible consequences of such cyber threats.


The attack on the Central Bank of Bangladesh

One of the most high-profile cyber-crimes involving theft of money which occurred in February this year. Hackers were able to withdraw from the Central Bank of Bangladesh $81 million – four tranches have passed through the Federal Reserve Bank (FRB) of New York to accounts in the Philippines and Sri Lanka. The fifth attempt of the transfer was blocked by employees of FRB, because they find it suspicious.

According to media reports, representatives of the Central Bank of Bangladesh believe that part of the responsibility for hacking belongs to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the SWIFT system itself, vulnerabilities in which, could make it easier for cybercriminals. Indirectly, the fact that the attackers could gain access to the system is evidenced by the fact that the trench on transfers from the CBB accounts have been confirmed within the SWIFT system in accordance with standard authentication protocols.

At the beginning of May 2016 the representatives of SWIFT stated that the vulnerabilities in the system couldn’t cause the theft. However, a few weeks before this, customers received a notification, which refers to the increased number of attempts of cyber-attacks on it.

Who is at risk?

Warning message didn’t contain any references to names of victims of these cyber-attacks and possible financial losses to which they might lead. At the same time, the organization released a security update for the software that banks use to access the SWIFT network – as some IS researchers, namely the vulnerability of the software could lead to the theft of money from Central Bank of Bangladesh. The staff members of the British BAE Systems company stated that hackers could manipulate with the server that give access to the messages system of SWIFT to sweep footprints. However, researchers have not been able to explain exactly how the attackers managed to create and send fake messages into the system.

What can cause an attack on financial institutions?

SWIFT system hacking could lead to an unprecedented theft. At risk are not only bank transfers using SWIFT, but also connected to this system brokerage firms, investment funds and stock exchanges. In addition, attacks on financial institutions may lead not only to a banal theft, but also offer opportunities for the implementation of various manipulations.


Hackers will continue to try to hack the SWIFT and other financial data exchange platforms. The main reason, according to many experts, lies in the fact that in the course of these attacks a lot of money can be stolen at once – a possible snatch which is higher than in the case of attacks on account of ordinary citizens or small businesses.

What to do?

FireEye experts strongly recommend that all financial institutions that are connected to SWIFT, pay close attention to the frequent hacking attempts, and take measures to strengthen the security of its own – for example, more likely to conduct independent audits of the security. The official representatives of SWIFT are in solidarity with the experts. According to them, in spite of the constant updating of the SWIFT system, a key defense against such attacks is to implement appropriate security measures on the side of organizations that use the system.

Information added: 05/21/2016 06:40 PM;