The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the U.S. Treasury Department, the FBI, and U.S. Cyber Command issued a joint warning on August 26th, alerting that North Korean hackers have reopened their campaign of targeting banks across the globe by making fraudulent transactions and ATM cash-outs.
The threat actors have made a systematic effort to attack financial institutions worldwide. They employ bold methods that do not guarantee a 100% success rate. However, these North Korean hackers have manipulated the ways in which some of the largest financial institutions interact with the international banking system. They dupe components of the system into making their hackers seem to be legitimate users; it allows them to transfer tens of millions of dollars into their accounts.
As these hackers continually intruded into bank transaction records and log files, financial institutions were prompted to release security alerts and necessary upgrades to counter and hence limit the threat. In haste to acquire valuable user data for ransom, these hackers have tampered hundreds of thousands of machines across the globe.
Notably, the attackers derived value from their failures and have amended their modus operandi in order to be more effective in their operations and fraudulent campaigns which can be seen in the $81 dollar theft from a Bangladeshi bank carried out by them in 2016. Other instances of their most profitable operations include attacking 30 countries in one single incident of fraudulent ATM cash-outs.
The alert came up with an “overview of North Korea’s extensive, global cyber-enabled bank robbery scheme, a short profile of the group responsible for this activity, in-depth technical analysis, and detection and mitigation recommendations to counter this ongoing threat to the Financial Services sector.”
These attackers’ “international robbery scheme” poses a “severe operational risk” for individual banks beyond reputational harm and financial losses. A robbery directed at one bank may implicate multiple banks “in both the theft and the flow of illicit funds back to North Korea,” as per the alert.
They “initially targeted switch applications at individual banks with FASTCash malware but, more recently, have targeted at least two regional interbank payment processors,” the alert states, cautioning that this suggests the hackers “are exploring upstream opportunities in the payments ecosystem.” The alert further warned.
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