Police foil £220 million attempted bank theft

Police have foiled an audacious attempt to steal £220 million from the London offices of a Japanese banking group, it emerged today.

A high-technology crime ring planned to gain access to Sumitomo's computer systems and transfer money electronically to 10 bank accounts around the world.

But according to the Financial Times, police in Israel yesterday arrested a man whose business account had been the intended recipient of some of the money.

Takashi Morita, head of communications at Sumitomo in Tokyo, told PA that the company had not suffered any financial loss as a consequence of the robbery attempt.

He said: "The case is still in the middle of investigation so we cannot comment further.

"We have undertaken various measures in terms of security and we have not suffered any financial damage."

According to the Financial Times, officers from the National High-Tech Crime Unit have been investigating the theft attempt since October, after the gang gained access to Sumitomo's computer systems and tried to transfer the money. The plan was uncovered before any money was transferred.

The hackers managed to infiltrate the system with keylogging software that would have enabled them to track every button pressed on computer keyboards.

From that they could learn account numbers, passwords and other sensitive information.

The man arrested was seized in Israel after an attempt to transfer £13.9 million into an account there "by deception in a sophisticated manner". He is charged with money laundering and deception.

It is reported that rumours of the attempted theft have been circulating in police and corporate circles since late last year, after the police warned financial institutions.

Steve Purdham, CEO of web security company SurfControl, said the planned theft must be taken seriously by the finance sector.

He said: "Today's news ... must act as a wake-up call for the banking and finance sector and business in general as to the potential damage that Spyware can cause.

"The attempted theft depended on a type of Spyware - otherwise known as 'key-logging' software - to track the passwords of Sumitomo personnel and enable the fraudsters to access secure areas of the network and to begin the process of distributing funds to a number of back accounts around the world."

Mr Purdham said corporations must take "a long hard look" at the various threats they face from sophisticated technology.

He went on: "Spyware is by no means a new threat and has been around in various forms for a number of years, but the difference now is that the criminal community is now starting to exploit it to its advantage.

"Businesses need to be able to stop this type of code from entering the network in the first place, as well as instigating clean-up operations from existing malware - something that can only be achieved through comprehensive content filtering."