SWIFT Hack Shows Attackers Penetrating Bank Defenses

computer security

ANALYSIS: Using highly specialized malware, online thieves manipulated the international banking system and stole more than $80 million (£55m)

Bangladeshi authorities have blamed SWIFT technicians, and officials at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, for introducing vulnerabilities into their network when they connected the alliance’s real-time gross settlement (RGTS) system, according to a Reuters report. The missteps resulted in the messaging systems at the Bangladesh Bank, the central financial institution for the country, being accessible through a simple password, bank officials told Reuters.

The SWIFT Alliance refuted the arguments, stressing that none of the issues were caused by its systems, but by the insecurity of the Bangladesh Bank’s infrastructure.

ukraine“The key defense against such attack scenarios remains for users to implement appropriate security measures in their local environments to safeguard their systems—in particular those used to access SWIFT—against such potential security threats,” the SWIFT Alliance said in an April statement. “Such protections should be implemented by users to prevent the injection of malware into, or any misappropriation of, their interfaces and other core systems.”

Blame game

The blame game only serves the attackers. The malware, already customized to attack the Bangladesh Bank and another victim institution in Vietnam, will likely be customized to attack more financial houses, according to network-security firm Damballa.

“The success of the attack on Bangladesh Bank’s SWIFT system means that it’s likely we’ll encounter BBSwift [Damballa’s name for the malware] again in a modified form,” the company said in a blog post. “In the next attack, most or all of the local, host-based IOCs (indicators of compromise) are likely to change in an attempt to evade anti-virus and other host-based security controls.”

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The SWIFT Alliance could go a long way toward helping its members secure their part of the network by publishing more concrete guidance and requiring that consultants be used to verify a member’s security, Skyport Systems said in an analysis of the recommendations document.

The current security guidelines for SWIFT, for example, do not require that administrators use dedicated desktops to access the service and do not force the most recent and secure version of communications encryption, TLS 1.2, the firm stated. In addition, SWIFT users should be required to segment their network employing a security device to limit access to the administrators’ computers, the company said.

While SWIFT recommends two-factor authentication, they need to also recommend cordoning off administrative credentials from the SWIFT environment, the Skyport analysis stated. Finally, financial institutions should focus on securing their logging services, as attackers will naturally attempt to corrupt or erase the logs to hide their tracks.

Skyport’s Gourlay pointed to two steps that SWIFT could take today that do not require re-engineering banks’ platforms. “Delivering some published guidelines that are actionable, and requiring that auditors come in in the next 60 to 90 days would both go a long way to helping,” he said.

Summing up the issues, SEC Chair Mary Jo White told attendees at the Reuters Financial Regulation Summit in Washington, D.C., that cyber-security has become the biggest problem facing the world’s financial system.

“What we found [in financial institutions], as a general matter so far, is a lot of preparedness, a lot of awareness but also their policies and procedures are not tailored to their particular risks,” she said.


Originally published on eWeek.