Multimillion bank heist in Bangladesh linked to 20 foreigners

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NY Federal Reserve Bank

Bangladesh authorities probing a $81-million electronic heist from the central bank said on Monday that more than 20 unnamed foreigners were involved in one of the largest bank robberies in history.

The Bangladesh Bank maintained a significant amount of money with the US Federal Reserve Bank, which the Bangladesh Bank used for international settlement and transactions.

In early February, $101 million of the Bangladesh Bank kept funds with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York was withdrawn illegally by hackers and managed to transfer the money electronically to accounts in the Philippines.

According to The Himalayan Times, the alleged hackers has breached the bank’s system and stole the credential for payment transfers and then used it to bombard the New York Federal Reserve with nearly three dozen requests to move all the money from the Bangladesh Bank account’s to several accounts in the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

Four requests were successful, moving a total of $108 million to the Philippines accounts, but the last and the fifth request, for $20 million to a certain Sri Lankan non-profit contained a banking error and was held up. That simple spelling error in an online bank transfer instruction has caused a serious trouble for a group of hackers, preventing them from stealing nearly $1.3 billion from two central banks.

A simple spelling error has stopped a massive online banking heist, where the hackers spelled “foundation” as “fandation”. That simple error has prompted the Deutsche bank to question the money transfer with the Bangladesh bank. After being alerted to the simple banking error, the Bangladesh authorities decided to stop the transaction, which authorities said has totalled around $1.1 billion

The stolen money was moved via transfer requests, with about $81 million ending up in some bank accounts in the Philippines, and an additional $850 million was tried to be transferred to some personal accounts in the Philippines, but was discovered and blocked by the local authorities.

According to Shah Alam, lead police investigator in the case, “at least 20 people from multiple foreign countries” had been found to have been linked with the multi-million digital heist.

“We’ve found concrete evidence that these people were involved in the heist,” Alam said in a statement, via the “We can’t disclose their identity at the moment as it might hamper our investigation.”

Authorities also said that they are now seeking assistance from the Interpol and FBI in a bid to arrest the foreigners. Authorities has earlier said that local-grown hackers were likely involved in the multi-million bank heist as “the names of local development projects were used in the payment advices sent to the Federal Reserve Bank.”

According to Bangladesh’s ambassador John Gomes, the alleged hackers were from nations other than the Philippines.

The hackers tried to steal a further $850 million by using the stolen bank credentials and bombarding the New York Federal Reserve Bank with dozens of transfer requests, but the bank’s security systems and typing errors in some requests prevented the money transfer.

The Bangladesh government has been scrambling and working round-the-clock to contain the damage done by the banking heist. The country’s central bank governor, two banking deputies along with the country’s top banking bureaucrat have lost their jobs over the bank theft incident.

Reports said that Bangladesh Bank has managed to recover some of the stolen money and is now working with Philippines government to recover the rest of the stolen money.

Picture Courtesy: Beyond My Ken/Wikimedia Commons

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