Was $100 Million Cyber Heist Loot Casino Laundered?

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On February 5, over $100 millions disappeared from the New York Federal Reserve Bank in Manhattan. No, it was nothing like a good old-times bank-heist with guns, shooting and hostages taken. It also had nothing to do with some elaborate Danny Ocean style schemes. No thief stepped a foot in the Federal Reserve Bank building. But over $100 mils just vanished into the thin air.

How is that possible? Several hackers, allegedly, breached the account of the Central Bank of Bangladesh at the Federal Reserve Bank and scheduled the $100 million wire transfer through SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications network). Et voila, $100 mils are gone. The fate of those yummy $100 mils is a bit unclear. Allegedly, it was transferred to the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) in the Philippines and then distributed over the black market with help of some brokers. Afterwards, the money was laundered through at least three Philippine casinos. And at last, its trace got lost completely. Allegedly.

There are three parties involved in this bizarre situation and seems like not a single one of them is to blame. The New York Federal Reserve denies any responsibility, saying there was no compromise on their end. They claim there was no sign of the Bangladesh account breach. As far as they are concerned all the responsibility has to be placed on SWIFT, as it was them who authenticated the transfer.

SWIFT, on the other hand, confirmed the fact that all the transactions have to be authenticated between the sending and the receiving institutions. But at the same time, they refused to give any comments on this particular transaction.

Bangladesh’s officials in their turn blame the Fed Reserve along with the Belgian-based SWIFT, but declare complete innocence on their part. They claim that as they keep their money at the Federal Reserve, they are the ones to blame for the breach of their bank’s security. Bangladesh Ministry of Finance threatened legal actions would be taken against the New York Department of the AFBS. But so far those are threats only and no legal repercussions followed.

As they deny the withdrawal request, RCBC also claim they have never worked with any gambling enterprises. And even though they confirm an $81 million deposit received by one of their branches, they never authorized its withdrawal by any casino. Allegedly, they are probing the transfer operation, but so far to no avail.

How come such a huge transfer could be processed almost totally anonymously? How come so much money could just vanish leaving no trace? Surely, if your local community bank had to perform a $100 mils transfer, then it would probably stay in everyone’s memory. But here, the transfer was made between the institutions well-acquainted with big sums. The Federal Reserve hosts accounts of over 250 countries from all over the world. They obviously provide transfer services for them as well. As of now, the assets of the New York branch of the Federal Reserve are worth somewhere around $2.6 trillion. For instance, Bangladesh’s account balance in foreign currency is worth more or less about $27 billion. Certainly, no one even paid attention to some minor $100 million transfer.

So what was it? Was it some inside job and money that should be safeguarded by the Fed Reserve is in fact in danger? Or maybe it was a heist performed by some top-tier hackers aka criminals, who managed to overcome several highly secured protection systems of several institutions? But in fact, it doesn’t really matter. The system or systems were breached, and the security was compromised. That is what should concern everyone involved in the situation. Or maybe, potentially, it should concern just everyone.

Right now all the banking and even federal institutions are taking proactive measures trying to provide more security to their online operations. The Pentagon even initiated a competition called ‘Hack the Pentagon.’ Some vetted hackers were challenged to infiltrate the Pentagon’s private network as well as its public websites. Surely, results would be kept secret, but the digital defense system would be put to the test and thus strengthened. That’s what’s important here. So maybe next time when some federal security defense system has to cope with hacking danger it would do it more efficiently and faster.

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