SWIFT on $81M bank heist: Our system wasn’t breached

Chrisee Dela Paz
SWIFT on $81M bank heist: Our system wasn’t breached
A SWIFT official says it is the responsibility of member-banks to ensure there is nothing wrong in their payment transactions

MANILA, Philippines – The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a global financial messaging network, said it was not at fault in the remittance of the stolen $81-million Bangladesh Bank funds to the Philippines, as its system was not breached.

“We have very strong certainty that our system has never been compromised. We are very sure that there is no breach at all in the network,” Alain Raes, chief executive for SWIFT Asia Pacific as well as Europe, Middle East and Africa, said in a media briefing in Makati City on Thursday, April 7.

Raes added member-banks are responsible for ensuring the safety of all of their transactions.

“We need to differentiate the responsibility of SWIFT and the responsibility of banks. It is the responsibility of the banks [to ensure] there is nothing wrong going on in their part of the chain,” Raes said.

On February 4, a SWIFT code was sent to the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC), ordering an inward remittance of $81 million to the Philippines from the account of Bangladesh Bank in downtown Manhattan.

It was found out that unknown cyber criminals hacked the computer systems of Bangladesh Bank, attempting to steal a total of $951 million from its account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. (READ: TIMELINE: Tracing the $81-million stolen fund from Bangladesh Bank)

Most of the attempted transfers were blocked by the New York bank, but $81 million was transferred to 5 fake RCBC accounts in the Philippines, using the SWIFT system. (READ: Network: Who’s who in the RCBC money-laundering scam)

Raes said that SWIFT is only responsible for informing their clients of all the transactions, as well as the security measures it undertakes.

“It is our responsibility to make sure that everyone is informed in the reality of security,” he said.

“There is a certain number of investigations undertaken by local authorities in Bangladesh and it is really up to their responsibility in this investigation. We leave these to the authorities to continue the investigation,” Raes added.

NO BREACH. Alain Raes says it is business as usual for SWIFT, despite the fallout surrounding the $81-million Bangladesh Bank fund heist. Photo by Chrisee Dela Paz/Rappler

Business as usual

For SWIFT, it’s business as usual despite the fallout surrounding the $81-million bank heist.

“We tend to treat every single transaction the same way. They’re all important to us. We will have the same principles of security,” Raes said.

Even with the money laundering scandal, Raes said they still expect that transactions of Philippine banks would grow further.

“There are 45,000 transactions [under the SWIFT system] going from the Filipino banks to the rest of the world, which yearly grows 15%,” he said.

“Asia is really becoming the fastest engine of growth of the company. In the coming years, [the Philippines is expected to be] one of the largest parts of the business.”

Brussels-based SWIFT, a cooperative owned by some 3,000 global financial institutions, does not transfer funds, but sends payment instructions between institutions’ accounts, using codes. – Rappler.com

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