Millions of Dollars at Stake When Bank Heists Go Digital

“Get down, this is a robbery!” That’s something no bank employee or patron wants to hear. In the past, bank robberies have resulted in thousands, even millions of dollars stolen in cash and gold (although the average yield for a bank robbery in the United States is only about $3,500, according to the FBI).

However, as money has become less physical and more digital, with credit cards and cryptocurrency rapidly replacing cash and coins, bank heists too have evolved from criminals physically breaching the walls of a bank with weapons and physical force, to hackers silently infiltrating the cyber infrastructure and funneling millions into their own accounts.

In one recent heist in Mexico, suspected to be a cyberattack, thieves stole as many as 300 million pesos ($15.4 million) through “phantom orders” to fake accounts, according to Reuters. This week, cybersecurity company Positive Technologies released a report describing how gangs execute sophisticated hacking campaigns against banks by taking advantage of social engineering and flawed security systems. The report also reveals the results of the company’s own penetration tests to show where these institutions may be falling short on protecting their networks and ultimately their funds.

This week I spoke with practice lead for governance, risk and compliance at TrustedSec, Alex Hamerstone, who works closely with large financial institutions doing cyber assessments and developing defense methods based on penetration test results, to gain more insight into bank vulnerabilities and security measures.

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