widenews desk: US federal prosecutors suspect the North Korean government directed last year’s theft of $81 million from Bangladesh’s account at the New York Federal Reserve Bank, according to a media report Wednesday.
Citing unnamed sources, The Wall Street Journal said prosecutors were developing cases showing Chinese middlemen helped the North Korean government orchestrate the enormous theft from the Bangladesh central bank.
In February 2016, thieves transferred the funds from Bangladesh’s account at the New York Fed to accounts in the Philippines using authenticated international bank access codes in the SWIFT system, not by hacking the bank.
It was unclear when or if any charges would be filed but any case might implicate North Korea without charging North Korean officials.
The Justice Department and the New York Fed declined to comment on the report.
The New York Fed over the past year has issued several statements, including joint statements with the central bank of Bangladesh and SWIFT, pledging to recover the stolen funds and enhance security of the payments system.
One statement said officials “remain concerned about this event and recommitted to working together to recover the entire proceeds of the fraud as expeditiously as possible, bring the perpetrators to justice in cooperation with law enforcement from other jurisdictions, and lend support to multilateral international efforts to further protect the global financial system from these types of attacks in the future.”
However, the New York Fed did not respond further on the status of the investigation.
Researchers at the security firm Symantec previously had linked the theft to a series of cyber-attacks on the US financial system and the 2014 hacking of Sony Pictures.
The U.S. is investigating whether the theft of $81 million from a Bangladesh central bank account at the New York Fed is linked to North Korea because of the similarity of the hack to an earlier breach of Sony Pictures Entertainment, two people familiar with the matter said.
There’s no indication that charges would be filed soon, said one of the people, both of whom asked not to be identified because the matter wasn’t public.
Some cyber-security experts have concluded last year’s theft from the Bangladesh central bank’s account was done with some of the same hacking tools used in the 2014 attack on Sony Pictures, the maker of the movie “The Interview” that poked fun at North Korea Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un. The Sony hack, linked to North Korea by the FBI, was followed that year by a blackout of North Korea’s internet that a U.S. lawmaker said was retaliation, without saying who was responsible for the outage.
The hackers stole $81 million from the Bangladesh central bank’s account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which said instructions to make the payments were authenticated by the SWIFT message system, widely used by financial institutions. The episode highlighted vulnerable links in the payment network underlying the global financial system and spurred calls for improved security measures for central banks.
The investigation of possible North Korean links to the Bangladesh theft was reported earlier by the Wall Street Journal.
On Tuesday at an Aspen Institute round-table discussion Deputy Director of the National Security Agency Richard Ledgett said that the Sony attack was correctly attributed to the North Korean government. Private sector cyber-security experts have linked the malware used in the Sony attack to that used in the Bangladesh bank theft.
“If that attribution is true, if that linkage from Sony actors to Bangladeshi bank actors is accurate, that means a nation state is robbing banks,” Ledgett said. “That is a big deal in my opinion.”
Ledgett added that he thinks that nation states are robbing banks.