Globalization of Crime

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A Byte Out of History, $10 Million Hack

In this cyber-crime heist, numerous enterprising cyber-criminals hailing from various countries in the world, partnered with a Russian computer programmer in executing a major hack on a U.S. bank, where they stole about $10 million. What startled many followers of this story is that the criminals had without use of masks, force, and ammunition managed to steal large sums of money that even physical bank robbers could not have managed to steal.

The cyber-criminals were so smart that even the bank’s systems could not detect the large sums of money that had gone out of its coffers electronically. It was only until the corporate customers of the bank started to complain of missing big balances from their accounts. Firstly, corporate clients had realized the loss of $400,000, which was then absent from their accounts. The massive complaints made the bank staff to decide on investigating the matter so that they do get exposed for staying determined to aid robbery.

The bank staff contacted the FBI after establishing what had happened, to report the illegal transfers. It was discovered that money had been moving out of the bank stealthily for a long time to overseas bank accounts. The receiving international bank accounts were frozen enabling the bank not to lose more funds to the cyber-criminals.

Similar international cybercrime cases

GameOver Zeus Malware attacks    

Another almost similar international cyber-crime attack case is the GameOver Zeus Malware attacks that were used to steal bank information of customers across the world, managing to steal about $100 million (Safe Communities Portugal, 2022). Alerts were raised to the FBI and alarms as well as warnings sent out to internet bank users that a malware was out on deploy collecting banking information of customers and using it to withdraw bank balances electronically. In the UK alone, it is believed that over 15,000 computers were infected by the malware. The FBI investigations established that close to 250,000 computers worldwide were infected by the malware.

Bangladesh Bank cyber heist  

The other related case is the Bangladesh Bank cyber heist which was also carried out in almost the same way of hacking. The amount stolen in this major hacking case of the recent times, $81 million were stolen (Banka, 2021). The digital heist was planned and executed by North Korean hackers. According to the plan of the hackers, the target amount for stealing had been placed at $1 billion. However, they were discovered before their mission had ended successfully.

In this attack, the cyber-attackers cleverly surpassed the bank’s firewalls and security defense arsenal permeating through to reach its global banking system known as, SWIFT. SWIFT is a global banking system that works based on messaging and correspondence. SWIFT has coded messages which mean differently and imply different actions. There are SWIFT messages that mean guarantee of funds from the sender bank. When the paying bank receives such a message, it can pay the proceeds even without realizing the same value from the sender bank.

The hackers, this case, managed to block the SWIFT system making it possible for the bank staff not to receive any communication until the funds clear and hackers withdraw the spoils. The bank’s USD currency correspondent/intermediary bank in the United States flagged the transactions after already clearing those amounting to $81 million. While the U.S. bank tried to reach out to the sender bank to inquire about the flagged and abnormally huge transaction that was being processed, SWIFT messages could not be received on the other end since the hackers had blocked them. The strategy gave the hackers enough three-day window for the funds to clear in the paying banks. The sender would later discover about the heist after the system started to send in messages. The transactions were then stopped.

The Far Eastern International Bank hack

Thirdly, there is the case of the Taiwanese bank known as the Far East International Bank, which occurred in 2018. A hacking cyber-crime gang had infiltrated the bank’s SWIFT banking network by planting malware in the organization’s servers. The malware affected computer systems, servers and the SWIFT terminal of the bank. The malware instructed SWIFT to move away $60 million money to the foreign bank accounts located in the United States of America, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia. Out of the total funds sent out, $500,000 remains missing up to date (Cluley, 2018).

Issues that the teams working these cases might have encountered and the impacts of those issues.

In investigations involving bank hacking at international scale, the FBI has always been called in to lead the work. In the above cases, the FBI investigation teams were involved. Since the cases involved stealing of money from the bank through online methods, the investigators must have encountered common challenges and issues while working on the cases. The biggest issue has been tracing the monies in the far away countries within receiving banks. Hackers on many occasions use receiving accounts that are opened using fake details. Mostly, when the investigators follow up, they find no person existing with the identities used to the open the accounts. People access details of dead persons, which then are used to open fake bank accounts for the purpose of money-laundering. Whenever such a challenge arises, chances of capturing the real person behind the account and one who made the withdrawals becomes a futile effort. Certainly, investigators in the above cases must have encountered similar challenges of identifying the owners of the bank accounts in which stolen monies were sent.

The investigators of the above cases must also have suffered the problem of conspiracy. Big hacking heists in banks usually have the backing of politicians and leaders of government within the receiving countries. In fact, the receiving bank management and shareholders are co-opted into the deals. With such a strong network, the investigators experience difficult times tracing funds and people behind the accounts, abroad. Understandably, the job of investigating hacking work depends a lot on the availability of information. The information that can aid successful bank hacking investigations normally comes from the banks themselves, central banks and the governments. Once these crucial players in the investigations network are corrupted by the hackers, it is difficult for the investigators to realize meaningful success. Believably, the investigators in the above cases must have experienced the difficulty occasioned by conspiracies in the hacking web.

Other issues that investigators in the above cases may have faced include the matter of lack of functional cyber-crime departments in the banks. Without a fully-fledged cyber-crime department within the bank’s IT Section, footprints of hacking processes are lost making the investigation process tedious and complex. Important leads to the path followed by the hackers for easy identification is lost since there are no digital logs or files.

Lastly, the investigators commonly faced the issue of capacity and capability to investigate the high-tech systems and software used by hackers to carry out the hacking work. Normally, hackers are always ahead of the investigators and banking technological muscle. Hacker’s work is based on the gaps they identify in the banking technological systems. The hackers first identify the gaps and innovate advanced systems to capitalize on the gaps identified. Therefore, when hacking happens, the banks mostly do not have that advanced level of technology to match what hackers used. For the security agencies, theirs is always reacting to the innovations of hackers by developing matching defense systems.

Administrative strategies, practices, and policies of the cases

The administrative issues seeable in the above cases include the fact that in most of the described cases, especially in that of a byte of history: $10 million hack, lacked specialized functions dealing with cyber-attacks. With the absence of the cyber crime team in the bank, white collar attack was the most possible route for the criminals.

Secondly, there is a glaring procedural issue that is identifiable in all the cases mentioned above, which is the lack of due diligence and enough know-your-customer processes and checks done by banks before opening accounts for people. It is the only way to explain the current trend of new bank accounts being involved in baking fraud. A lot of the bank accounts always have fake identities behind them. When investigators attempt to follow the account-holders, they always realize that they belong to fake non-existent persons.

Shorter periods of clearing international bank transfer transactions are not healthy. The current procedure for SWIFT global system is three business days for a transaction to reflect on the payee’s account. The three days period is too short and gives chances to hackers to strategically use holidays and weekends when staff are not in the bank offices to execute their missions.

Criminal justice administrative practices that could be implemented to better address this type of global cybercrime

Administratively, banks should advance their current KYC practice and ensure persons opening accounts are real ones. For purpose of the criminal justice system, the police should be enjoined in the KYC process by demanding that opening of bank accounts start from the police departments. A person wishing to open an account in bank should be required to first undergo police clearance and approval before they proceed to the bank to open the accounts.

Big money transactions should also be put on the radar of international police agencies like INTERPOL and FBI. In this case, no big transaction on the SWIFT platform should clear before international police multi-agency gives clearing correspondence. It implies that banks should have a functional cyber crime team in a department involving police officers.

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