Cyber criminals' £220m raid on bank is foiled

Jason Bennetto,Crime Correspondent
Friday 18 March 2005 01:00 GMT

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An attempt by computer hackers to steal £220m in one of the world's biggest bank robberies has been foiled by British detectives.

An attempt by computer hackers to steal £220m in one of the world's biggest bank robberies has been foiled by British detectives.

A high-technology crime gang planned to transfer millions of pounds from the London offices of the Japanese bank Sumitomo Mitsui into 10 bank accounts around the world.

But before they could download any money, detectives arrested one of the alleged robbers. Yeron Bolondi, 32, was seized by police in Israel after the plot was investigated by the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) in London. He was charged with money laundering and deception after an attempt to transfer $20m (£10.4m) into an account in Israel. Further arrests are expected.

Computer specialists said the case highlighted the growing threat to financial institutions from cyber criminals.

The NHTCU has been investigating the electronic attack on Sumitomo since October, after the gang gained access to the bank's computer systems and tried to transfer the money. The plan was uncovered before any money was stolen.

The hackers infiltrated the system using keylogging software to track every button pressed on computer keyboards. From that, they could learn account numbers, passwords and other sensitive information.

Takashi Morita, head of communications at Sumitomo in Tokyo, said: "We have undertaken measures in terms of security and we have not suffered any financial damage." He added: "The case is still in the middle of investigation so we cannot comment further."

Anti-virus experts said organised electronic crime was growing so fast that even the very latest security software was struggling to keep pace.

Steve Purdham, CEO of the web security company SurfControl, said the planned theft "must act as a wake-up call for the banking and finance sector and business in general".

Graham Cluley, an anti-virus specialist at the computer security firm Sophos, said this type of electronic attack was becoming more and more popular with criminals. "In the old days you would have to get in a car and do the robbery yourself, whereas now you can do the getaway before the crime."

He said the gang could have used a "worm" keylogger internet virus to infect the bank's system through an unprotected computer or a so-called "Trojan horse" programme, often transmitted through spam e-mail.

He added: "It is unlikely they would have been successful because whenever a large bank transfers a certain amount of money, there would have to be other checks in place."

John Redeyoff, director of the Information Security Consultancy at the NCC Group, said: "The reality of this type of attack is that, if undetected, the results can be embarrassing at best, and at worst have huge financial implications and a loss of customer confidence."

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