New report reveals how cyber attackers 'cash out' following large-scale heists

BAE Systems report commissioned by SWIFT supports efforts by banks to prevent, detect and respond to cyber-attacks

  

Brussels & London — SWIFT and BAE Systems Applied Intelligence today published ‘Follow the Money’, a new report that describes the complex web of money mules, front companies and cryptocurrencies that criminals use to siphon funds from the financial system after a cyber-attack.

The report highlights the ingenuity of money laundering tactics to obtain liquid financial assets and avoid any subsequent tracing of the funds. For instance, cyber criminals often recruit unsuspecting job seekers to serve as money mules that extract funds by placing legitimate sounding job advertisements, complete with references to the organisation’s diversity and inclusion commitments. They use insiders at financial institutions to evade or undermine the scrutiny of compliance teams carrying out know-your-customer (KYC) and due diligence checks on new account openings. And they convert stolen funds into assets such as property and jewellery which are likely to hold their value and less likely to attract the attention of law enforcement.

SWIFT commissioned BAE Systems to investigate this element of the money laundering process as part of its Customer Security Programme (CSP). The CSP continually helps the financial community to strengthen its cyber defences through a range of measures including mandatory controls, intelligence sharing and thought leadership. Although there has been much research into the methods that cyber criminals use to conduct attacks, there has been less investigation into what happens to funds once they have been stolen. The aim of this report is to illuminate the techniques used by cyber criminals to ‘cash out’ so that SWIFT’s global community of over 11,000 financial institutions, market infrastructures and corporates can better protect themselves.

Brett Lancaster, Head of the Customer Security Programme at SWIFT said: “The threat posed by cyber-attacks to the financial sector has never been greater. Attackers are well-resourced, constantly evolving their modus operandi and using untraceable money laundering techniques. The report highlights how the growth in cyber-attacks is increasing the need for the convergence of anti-money laundering, fraud and cybersecurity processes in financial institutions. It calls for them to increase information sharing, tighten due diligence requirements and smartly invest in maintaining systems to strengthen their defences.”

Simon Viney, Cyber Security Financial Services Sector Lead at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence said: “The activity from cyber criminals and gangs across the world is estimated to result in over $1.5 trillion dollars in annual losses. This report focuses on money laundering related activities necessary for cyber attackers to conduct and ‘cash out’ a successful attack and avoid the money subsequently being traced. As technology and criminals’ techniques evolve at a rapid pace, so will the need for institutions, both private sector and law enforcement, to collaborate and maintain awareness of evolving money laundering techniques, in order to reduce the opportunities for threat groups to benefit from committing high-value cyber heists.”

Among the other findings in the report:

  • Front companies – cyber criminals tend to focus on textile, garment, fishery and seafood businesses to obfuscate funds. They find it easier to operate in parts of East Asia where less stringent regulations make it easier to conduct their activities.
  • Cryptocurrencies – while the number of identified cases of money laundering through cryptocurrencies is low so far, there have been a couple of major incidents involving millions of dollars. Digital transactions are appealing because they are conducted in a peer-to-peer manner that circumvents the compliance and KYC checks conducted by banks, and often require only an e-mail address
  • Experience - The method chosen by cyber criminals to cash out and spend the stolen funds is indicative of their levels of professionalism and experience. Some inexperienced criminals have immediately made extravagant purchases drawing the attention of law enforcement agencies and leading to arrests.

The Follow the Money report is available to download now. Visit www.swift.com/resource/follow-the-money to download your copy of the report.

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Press Contacts:
Borouj Consulting
Randa Mazzawi or Nicola Ellegaard
+971 4 3403005
SWIFT@boroujconsulting.com 

For UK and Europe:
Nick Haigh, BAE Systems
E: nick.haigh@baesystems.com

For North America:
Brad Grantham, BAE Systems
brad.grantham2@baesystems.com 

About SWIFT

SWIFT is a global member owned cooperative and the world’s leading provider of secure financial messaging services. We provide our community with a platform for messaging and standards for communicating, and we offer products and services to facilitate access and integration, identification, analysis and regulatory compliance.

Our messaging platform, products and services connect more than 11,000 banking and securities organisations, market infrastructures and corporate customers in more than 200 countries and territories. While SWIFT does not hold funds or manage accounts on behalf of customers, we enable our global community of users to communicate securely, exchanging standardised financial messages in a reliable way, thereby supporting global and local financial flows, as well as trade and commerce all around the world.

As their trusted provider, we relentlessly pursue operational excellence; we support our community in addressing cyber threats; and we continually seek ways to lower costs, reduce risks and eliminate operational inefficiencies. Our products and services support our community’s access and integration, business intelligence, reference data and financial crime compliance needs. SWIFT also brings the financial community together – at global, regional and local levels – to shape market practice, define standards and debate issues of mutual interest or concern. SWIFT’s strategic five year plan, SWIFT2020, challenges SWIFT to continue investing in the security, reliability and growth of its core messaging platform, while making additional investments in existing services and delivering new and innovative solutions.

Headquartered in Belgium, SWIFT’s international governance and oversight reinforces the neutral, global character of its cooperative structure. SWIFT’s global office network ensures an active presence in all the major financial centres. 

About BAE Systems Applied Intelligence

At BAE Systems Applied Intelligence, we help nations, governments and businesses around the world defend themselves against cybercrime, reduce their risk in the connected world, comply with regulation, and transform their operations. For more information regarding our compliance, fraud detection and prevention solutions, visit https://www.baesystems.com/financialservices/ 

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