SWIFT asks its customers to help it end a string of high-profile banking frauds

The company has promised an update to its security guidelines soon, following criticism of outdated practices

Financial transaction network SWIFT called on its customers Friday to help it end a string of high-profile banking frauds perpetrated using its network.

The SWIFT network itself is still secure, it insisted in a letter to banks and financial institutions. However, some of its customers have suffered security breaches in their own infrastructure, allowing attackers to fraudulently authorize transactions and send them over the SWIFT network, it said.

That's the best explanation so far for how authenticated instructions were sent from Bangladesh Bank to the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of New York over the SWIFT network, ordering the transfer of almost US$1 billion. The Fed transferred around $101 million of that before identifying an anomaly in one of the instructions. Only $20 million of that has so far been recovered.

"While customers are responsible for the security of their own environment, security is our top priority and as an industry-owned cooperative we are committed to helping our customers fight against cyber-attacks," SWIFT said in the letter.

SWIFT wants its customers to come forward with information about other fraudulent transfers made using their SWIFT credentials, to help it build a picture of how the attackers are working.

It's making more than a polite request: It reminded its customers that they have an obligation to provide such information under the terms of their contract, and also to help SWIFT identify, investigate, and resolve problems, including by providing diagnostic information following an incident.

SWIFT promised its customers it would share new information about malware or other indicators of compromised systems. It said it would add such information to a restricted section of its website, tacking it on to knowledge base tip number 5020928, "Modus Operandi related to breaches in customer’s environment."

"All new and relevant information related to cyber incidents at customers’ institutions known to us will be posted," SWIFT said in its Friday letter. But customers would do well to search elsewhere, too, as the company has scattered recent information about hacks across its knowledge base.

Tip 5020930, for instance, explains how to tell whether a system has been compromised by malware that prevents the storage of transaction acknowledgements in the default location on disk, one of the most likely explanations for how the Bangladesh heist initially escaped detection.

The tip immediately after that, 5020931, describes "indicators of compromise" to help users identify whether they are impacted by malware corrupting the Master Boot Record from the hard disk followed by a reboot, perhaps offering a hint as to how another recent attack on a SWIFT customer was carried out. "This malware known to SWIFT was designed to destroy the MBR (Master Boot Record) of the disk and reboot the system. After reboot the system does not boot anymore," it says.

Knowledge base entries show that SWIFT has updated its Alliance Access software several times in recent months. One of the tips warns that, while keeping the software up to date is important, it is not sufficient in itself. "While the software update provides additional integrity verification and alerting capabilities for this particular modus operandi on your interface to the SWIFT network, it will not help you protect against all malwares or your internal credentials being compromised," SWIFT wrote in another recent letter to customers, entitled "Security Issues."

One of the tips warns that, while keeping the software up to date is important, it is not sufficient in itself. "While the software update provides additional integrity verification and alerting capabilities for this particular modus operandi on your interface to the SWIFT network, it will not help you protect against all malwares or your internal credentials being compromised," SWIFT wrote in another recent letter to customers, entitled "Security Issues."

SWIFT also offers more general security guidance to its customers and says it intends to update this shortly, reinforcing its recommendations for securing access to the network.

The current security guidance is sorely in need of an update, according to Doug Gourlay, corporate vice president of security software vendor Skyport Systems. He reviewed the guidance document issued on March 18 (SWIFT updated it on April 29 to reflect changes in Alliance Access 7.1.15) and found it wanting.

"The document is a fairly comprehensive approach to securing SWIFT against the types of attacks that were prevalent a decade ago," Gourlay wrote in a May 13 blog post. But times have changed, he said, and "their model does not seem to have adapted to the threat landscape we are facing today."

Gourlay advised that SWIFT should make five changes in its security guidance.

Among his recommendations, he suggested limiting the attack surface by only allowing access to the Alliance web platform from secure administrative workstations. Better yet, he suggested, use virtual workstations, rebuilding them after each administrative session to eliminate malware such as keyloggers.

He expressed shock that SWIFT recommended accessing the Web platform using Internet Explorer, the last version of which was released in 2013, or Firefox, but made no mention of either Chrome or Microsoft Edge, the browser included with Windows 10. "I will drop the mic here and avoid any further recommendations regarding the browser choices ... you all know better (I hope)," he wrote.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Peter Sayer

Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?