Swift CEO reveals three more failed attacks on banking network

Swift will impose stricter security standards on banks from next year

Banks stopped three new attempts to abuse the Swift financial transfer network this summer, its CEO Gottfried Leibbrandt said Monday, as he announced Swift's plan to impose tighter security controls on its customers.

Swift provides the network that banks use to exchange funds internationally, and hit the headlines in February when attackers almost got away with a billion-dollar heist at Bangladesh Bank. In the end, they only succeeded in stealing US$81 million after hacking bank systems connected to the Swift network.

That prompted Swift to ratchet up security around its systems, which weren't themselves breached, updating the software it provides banks and adding new audit and verification tools.

Despite the risk to their businesses and reputations, though, banks have been slow to make the changes, so from next year, Swift is going to make many of them mandatory.

Leibbrandt revealed details of the three new thwarted attacks during a keynote speech at the Sibos banking conference in Geneva on Monday.

A few months ago, he said, he received a call. "One of our banks had been alerted by their clearing correspondent that there was something fishy with their transactions," he said. An investigation showed that the bank had been compromised and that payment reports had been altered -- similar to the way in which the Bangladesh Bank theft was performed.

"Next day I get another call. The clearing correspondent had found that the ultimate beneficiary of these transactions, a mule account, featured in transactions of yet another bank. We contacted that bank and that bank too had been compromised," he continued.

"Fortunately, it had already been alerted by the bank of the ultimate beneficiary, who had had anti-money-laundering concerns over that final account," he said. By working together the four banks, on four different continents, were able to prevent any money from being lost.

"A few weeks later, another case," Leibbrandt said. "This was a bank that had the latest antivirus and had updated the latest security patch on our software, and in that case alerts from the antivirus and from the latest security patch triggered alerts that prevented further fraud happening there as well."

That third failed attack showed the importance of banks securing their own environments through multifactor authentication, securing their credentials, using antivirus and firewalls, and applying the latest updates and security patches to operating software, all things Leibbrandt likened to "basic hygiene."

But, he warned, "There are other cases we've seen where the attacks are successful, and we expect this to continue and get more sophisticated."

To combat such attacks, by next July Swift will require customers to self-certify their compliance with a set of 16 core security standards, and from Jan. 1, 2018 will also conduct audits.

Swift will make information about banks' compliance with the new rules available to their regulators and to their correspondent banks, allowing the latter to check whether their counterparty "has washed his hands for dinner, so to speak," Leibbrandt said, continuing his hygiene analogy.

Details of the new security standards aren't finalized yet: Swift plans to hold a two-month consultation on them from the end of October, publishing the final rules next March.

It's not just Swift's customers that will have to change to keep out the attackers.

"We are also investing in our own security," Leibbrandt said. "We have not been breached, as far as we are aware -- and I always add the 'as far as we are aware' because I truly believe that in cyber only the paranoid survive."

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

More about Geneva

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Peter Sayer

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place