What is thought to be the biggest bank heist in history occurred in February 2016 at the New York Federal Reserve bank and saw approximately $81 million stolen through an electronic transfer from the account of the central bank of Bangladesh.
According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, federal investigators believe they have finally figured out who was behind the cyberheist — Chinese middlemen working on behalf of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
The thieves are believed to have used special access codes obtained from international money transfer network known as SWIFT to conduct several transfers over the course of a weekend from the Bangladesh bank to at least four other bank accounts in the Philippines. From there, the money was laundered through a variety of Chinese-owned casinos in the region.
Investigators made the determination of responsibility after coming across code similar to that found after the 2014 hack of Sony Entertainment, which had previously been attributed to the North Korean government.
“If that linkage is true, that means a nation-state is robbing banks,” stated Richard Ledgett, deputy director of the National Security Agency during a recent discussion at the Aspen Institute, according to The Wall Street Journal. “That is a big deal. It’s different.”
Should federal prosecutors proceed with pressing charges, they would likely only be for the Chinese individuals or businesses involved in the heist, and not any North Koreans. Neither the Chinese embassy nor the North Korean mission in the U.S. responded to The Journal’s requests for comment.
Reuters reported that the initial 2016 heist had sought nearly $1 billion from the Bangladesh bank, but most of the transfer requests were rejected by U.S. central bank. A top investigator in Bangladesh’s capital of Dhaka has suggested that some officials at the Bangladesh bank may have purposefully exposed their system, allowing the hackers to obtain their SWIFT access codes.
SWIFT, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, includes more than 11,000 financial institutions worldwide. SWIFT officials believe that their system has been targeted in similar cyberattacks over the past year.
They also announced recently that they would be severing ties with any North Korean banks that remained in the network, largely over concerns regarding the communist regime’s continued development of a nuclear program and missile systems.
SWIFT, the New York Fed and the Justice Department all declined to comment to The Journal on the specifics of the case.
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H/T New York Post