SWIFT CEO promises security improvements

Humble piece comes in five slices


The head of the SWIFT financial network has put forward a five-part plan to improve security after its systems were the focus of several cyberattacks.

Gottfried Leibbrandt gave a keynote on Tuesday at a financial services conference in Brussels and promised the organization would work harder to ensure that incidents like last month's theft of $81m from Bangladesh's central bank were not possible in future.

Although Leibbrandt reiterated his point that SWIFT's systems had not been compromised, the highly critical reaction to the network's initial not-my-problem response clearly had an impact, and some crumbs of humble pie were visible on the lectern.

In response to the Bangladeshi bank scam, he said: "Two questions pop up for SWIFT, at least they have in the press. One: isn't SWIFT in the middle of all of this? Two: What are you going to do about it?"

Hackers had managed to gain access to Bangladesh Bank's central keys and use them through the SWIFT international money system to divert funds. From SWIFT's perspective the issue lies with the bank: their systems had been compromised.

The organization responded aggressively to suggestions that it was in some way responsible for the theft, putting out an announcement that read in part: "SWIFT rejects the false, inaccurate and misleading allegations made by Bangladesh Bank and Bangladesh Police's Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officials to Reuters. The accusations have no basis in fact."

Out of step

But it wasn't long before security experts pointed out that SWIFT's security systems were out of step with the modern world. Its security guidelines are "outdated and incomplete," said one analysis. Its systems were set up to deal with "the types of attacks that were prevalent a decade ago," and the network fails to safeguard against today's more sophisticated hacks – like the one suffered by the Bangladeshi bank.

As just one example, SWIFT offers but does not insist on two-factor authentication, which is pretty much standard on most systems where critical information is approved online.

SWIFT also acknowledged that it wasn't the first time that the method used by the Bangladeshi hackers had been attempted on its network.

The outcry gave SWIFT food for thought, and a few weeks after the attack, the organization promised to take another look at its security. That look comes in five parts, which are currently relatively vague but which the organization has promised to turn into real action.

Leibbrandt outlined those parts as:

  1. Drastically improve information sharing among the global financial community.
  2. Harden security requirements for customer-managed software.
  3. Enhance guidelines and develop security audit frameworks for customers.
  4. Support banks' increased use of payment pattern controls to identify suspicious behavior.
  5. Introduce certification requirements for third-party providers.

Or, in other words, do what the organization should have done as part of its job several years ago.

Ummm

But before you get too excited about Leibbrandt's sudden understanding of the modern world, his speech revealed a continued misunderstanding of modern financial crime.

"Back before mainframes, ATMs, mobile banking and PCs, it was all about men and guns," he said. "Now it is about men in hoodies hunkering over keyboards."

If he imagines that the kind of people that are breaking into a central bank, grabbing authorization keys, using SWIFT networks against it even to the extent of adjusting printed reports to hide fraudulent transfers, and then moving the money to accounts that can't be got at are "men in hoodies," he continues to massively underestimate the modern cybercriminal.

There was some self-awareness however. "Change is hard," he noted. "Sometimes it takes a crisis. As the saying goes: 'a crisis is a terrible thing to waste'; so let's use this crisis as an industry to come out stronger, better and even more secure." ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Ransomware encrypts files, demands three good deeds to restore data
    Shut up and take ... poor kids to KFC?

    In what is either a creepy, weird spin on Robin Hood or something from a Black Mirror episode, we're told a ransomware gang is encrypting data and then forcing each victim to perform three good deeds before they can download a decryption tool.

    The so-called GoodWill ransomware group, first identified by CloudSEK's threat intel team, doesn't appear to be motivated by money. Instead, it is claimed, they require victims to do things such as donate blankets to homeless people, or take needy kids to Pizza Hut, and then document these activities on social media in photos or videos.

    "As the threat group's name suggests, the operators are allegedly interested in promoting social justice rather than conventional financial reasons," according to a CloudSEK analysis of the gang. 

    Continue reading
  • Microsoft Azure to spin up AMD MI200 GPU clusters for 'large scale' AI training
    Windows giant carries a PyTorch for chip designer and its rival Nvidia

    Microsoft Build Microsoft Azure on Thursday revealed it will use AMD's top-tier MI200 Instinct GPUs to perform “large-scale” AI training in the cloud.

    “Azure will be the first public cloud to deploy clusters of AMD's flagship MI200 GPUs for large-scale AI training,” Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott said during the company’s Build conference this week. “We've already started testing these clusters using some of our own AI workloads with great performance.”

    AMD launched its MI200-series GPUs at its Accelerated Datacenter event last fall. The GPUs are based on AMD’s CDNA2 architecture and pack 58 billion transistors and up to 128GB of high-bandwidth memory into a dual-die package.

    Continue reading
  • New York City rips out last city-owned public payphones
    Y'know, those large cellphones fixed in place that you share with everyone and have to put coins in. Y'know, those metal disks representing...

    New York City this week ripped out its last municipally-owned payphones from Times Square to make room for Wi-Fi kiosks from city infrastructure project LinkNYC.

    "NYC's last free-standing payphones were removed today; they'll be replaced with a Link, boosting accessibility and connectivity across the city," LinkNYC said via Twitter.

    Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine said, "Truly the end of an era but also, hopefully, the start of a new one with more equity in technology access!"

    Continue reading
  • Cheers ransomware hits VMware ESXi systems
    Now we can say extortionware has jumped the shark

    Another ransomware strain is targeting VMware ESXi servers, which have been the focus of extortionists and other miscreants in recent months.

    ESXi, a bare-metal hypervisor used by a broad range of organizations throughout the world, has become the target of such ransomware families as LockBit, Hive, and RansomEXX. The ubiquitous use of the technology, and the size of some companies that use it has made it an efficient way for crooks to infect large numbers of virtualized systems and connected devices and equipment, according to researchers with Trend Micro.

    "ESXi is widely used in enterprise settings for server virtualization," Trend Micro noted in a write-up this week. "It is therefore a popular target for ransomware attacks … Compromising ESXi servers has been a scheme used by some notorious cybercriminal groups because it is a means to swiftly spread the ransomware to many devices."

    Continue reading
  • Twitter founder Dorsey beats hasty retweet from the board
    As shareholders sue the social network amid Elon Musk's takeover scramble

    Twitter has officially entered the post-Dorsey age: its founder and two-time CEO's board term expired Wednesday, marking the first time the social media company hasn't had him around in some capacity.

    Jack Dorsey announced his resignation as Twitter chief exec in November 2021, and passed the baton to Parag Agrawal while remaining on the board. Now that board term has ended, and Dorsey has stepped down as expected. Agrawal has taken Dorsey's board seat; Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor has assumed the role of Twitter's board chair. 

    In his resignation announcement, Dorsey – who co-founded and is CEO of Block (formerly Square) – said having founders leading the companies they created can be severely limiting for an organization and can serve as a single point of failure. "I believe it's critical a company can stand on its own, free of its founder's influence or direction," Dorsey said. He didn't respond to a request for further comment today. 

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022