HANOI/BOSTON (Reuters) - Vietnam’s Tien Phong Bank said that it interrupted an attempted cyber heist that involved the use of fraudulent SWIFT messages, the same technique at the heart of February’s massive theft from the Bangladesh central bank.
Hanoi-based TPBank said in a statement late on Sunday
in response to inquiries from Reuters that in the fourth quarter of last year it identified suspicious requests through fraudulent SWIFT messages to transfer more than 1 million euros ($1.1 million) of funds.
TPBank said it caught the attempt quickly enough to halt movement of funds to criminals by immediately contacting involved parties.
The attack “did not cause any losses. It had no impact on the SWIFT system in particular and the transaction system between the bank and customers in general,” the bank’s statement said.
The bank said the transfers were made using infrastructure of an outside vendor hired to connect it to the SWIFT bank messaging system. Its statement did not name the service provider, though it said TPBank has discontinued working with that vendor and switched to using a new system that offers a higher level of security and enables it to connect directly with SWIFT.
SWIFT, the backbone of global financial transactions, declined comment on TPBank’s claims. On Thursday, it had said a unnamed commercial bank was targeted by a malware attack similar to the one at Bangladesh Bank.
TPBank did not immediately respond to requests from Reuters late on Sunday to elaborate on its statement. Representatives with Vietnam’s central bank also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
It was not immediately clear when SWIFT was made aware of the attempted cyber heist at TPBank and whether it took any action to prevent similar attacks or warned other clients.
In February, in one of the world’s biggest ever cyber-heists, hackers tried to steal nearly $1 billion from Bangladesh Bank’s account at the New York Federal Reserve using fraudulent transfer messages on the SWIFT system.
Most of the orders were blocked but $81 million was transferred to bank accounts in the Philippines. The money was moved to casinos and casino agents and most remains missing.
TPBank said that the attack might have been facilitated using malware installed on a software application used by the third-party vendor. It noted that SWIFT had recently issued a warning about malware used in schemes involving fraudulent transfers ordered over the SWIFT network.
On Friday, the Brussels-based messaging service sent a warning to all of its customers warning that it was aware of a “small number” of cases of fraud at its customers.
It said that malware was used to target a PDF reader used by customers to review statements summarizing transfers made over SWIFT.
It was not immediately clear whether TPBank’s description referred to the PDF malware.
Cybersecurity firm BAE Systems (BAES.L) said last week malware was used to target a Vietnamese commercial bank using fraudulent messages on the SWIFT network. The malware operated in a similar way to that used by hackers in the Bangladesh cyber heist. BAE did not name the Vietnamese bank.
TPBank said the servers of the third-party vendor were based overseas, but did not say where. It said the vendor had used a software application that SWIFT had told the bank may have been subject to the malware assault.
TPBank, founded in 2008 by Vietnam’s top technology firm FPT Corp FPT.HM, is considered one of Vietnam’s most modern and technologically savvy banks. Just last week it was received the “Best Internet Banking” prize from The Asian Banker.
TPBank’s major shareholders include Doji, a local gold and jewellery firm, state-run Vietnam National Reinsurance Corporation (VNR.HN) and Singapore-based SBI Ven Holding Pte Ltd, a unit of Japanese financial services conglomerate SBI Holdings Inc (8473.T). FPT has divested most of its shareholdings and now has a 9 percent stake in TPBank.
After BAE systems said a Vietnamese bank had been targeted, TPBank, when contacted by Reuters on Friday, initially denied it had been subject of an attack, saying it “did not have any problems.”
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Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Martin Howell and Raju Gopalakrishnan