Washington, DC (BBN) – The top official leading an investigation into the brazen $81 million cyber heist from Bangladesh’s account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said the attack didn’t point to specific vulnerabilities in international payments, but that it should leave companies concerned about similar attacks.
“I think people should be horrified about the possibilities of people nameless and unidentified, beyond oceans…behind veils of anonymity, being able to…direct huge amounts of money to people to whom it doesn’t belong…that is a huge problem, and a huge threat to our financial system,” Manhattan’s top federal prosecutor, Preet Bharara said at a Wall Street Journal conference here on Tuesday.
Asked whether people should have confidence in Swift, the global bank messaging service used to carry out the theft, Mr. Bharara replied: “I don’t think there is any reason for people not to have confidence in any particular institution.”
Still, he said, speaking at the WSJ CFO Council meeting, “I do think that people need to be deeply concerned that systems can be compromised.”
Mr. Bharara’s office and the FBI in New York are investigating the suspected theft by computer hackers, who tried to steal nearly $1 billion through extensive penetration of Bangladesh Bank’s computers, dozens of orders on the official interbank fund-transfer network, and a money trail that ran through the Philippines’ murky casino business.
Bangladesh investigators in part blamed lapses at Swift. Several other hacking incidents at banks in Vietnam and Ecuador that stole money via Swift have raised questions about the system’s vulnerability. The Wall Street Journal previously reported U.S. investigators also suspect the Bangladesh theft was partly an inside job.
Some outside investigators have found similarities in the malware used in the Bangladesh hack and an attack by North Korea on Sony Pictures in 2014, a connection Mr. Bharara seemed to play down.
In speaking about concerns raised by the Sony attack, Mr. Bharara said that “it was attributed to North Korea, which I understand has combined the computing power of, I think, your iWatch.”
Separately in the WSJ interview, Mr. Bharara criticized an appeals court that last month overturned a marquee case stemming from the financial crisis that his office had brought against Bank of America. A jury had earlier found the bank liable for civil fraud, and a judge had ordered it pay a $1 billion penalty.
“Respectfully, we disagree with it…we think it’s wrong,” Mr. Bharara said of the appeals court decision, which he said underscored difficulties in prosecuting cases tied to the 2008 crisis.
“If you are concerned about why people haven’t been held accountable…if you really think there is a problem and there should be more accountability…people need to talk to the courts, and people need to talk to Congress,” he said.