In what is one of the world’s largest bank robberies, a global cybercrime ring stole $45 million from two Middle Eastern banks, US prosecutors claim.
The robbers hacked into credit card processing firms and withdrawing money from ATMs in 27 countries.
Inspector Knacker of the Yard has fingered the collar of eight men of allegedly forming the New York-based cell of the organisation. Seven are in custody, but the eighth, allegedly a leader of the cell, was reported to have been murdered in the Dominican Republic last month.
Prosecutors say that the ringleaders are believed to be outside the United States but prosecutors told Reuters that the investigation is continuing.
However it looks like the crooks managed to do some serious damage, quite quickly. For example in one of the attacks, in just over 10 hours, $40 million was raided from ATMs in 24 countries involving 36,000 transactions.
US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch told assorted hacks that in place of guns and masks, the cybercrime organization used laptops and the internet. The organisation worked its way from the computer systems of international corporations to the streets of New York City.
It shows how cybercrime poses a major threat to the world banks and how increasingly tech savy criminal gangs have become.
The gang broke into the computers of two credit card processors, one in India in December 2012 and the other in the United States this February.
They increased the available balance and withdrawal limits on prepaid MasterCard debit cards issued by Bank of Muscat of Oman, and National Bank of Ras Al Khaimah PSC (RAKBANK) of the United Arab Emirates.
They then distributed counterfeit debit cards to “cashers” around the world, enabling them to siphon millions of dollars from ATMs in a matter of hours.
Mastercard has said it had cooperated with law enforcement in the investigation but pointed out that its systems were not involved or compromised in the attacks.
The Bank of Muscat revealed that it would take an impairment charge of $39 million because it had been defrauded overseas by 12 prepaid debit cards used for travel..
It is believed that the gang targeted Middle Eastern banks because they tend to allow customers to put much larger sums on cards and do not monitor them as closely as banks in other regions.
It was only a matter of time before the Arab banks were seen as a soft target for cyber criminals, but the attack mirrored a similar case in 2009 that targeted the prepaid debit-card unit of Royal Bank of Scotland, which lost more than $9 million in less than 12 hours.
The seven arrested are: Jael Mejia Collado, Joan Luis Minier Lara, Evan Jose Peña, Jose Familia Reyes, Elvis Rafael Rodriguez, Emir Yasser Yeje and Chung Yu-Holguin who goes by the handle of “Chino El Abusador”.
The defendant who reportedly had been killed was Alberto Yusi Lajud-Peña, also known as “Prime” and “Albertico”.