The Great ATM Heist . . . Is Our Money Safe?
Like blacks ops, people in possibly 26 countries struck twice with coordinated surgical precision. Acting swiftly, these criminal operations were able to steal more than $45 million in a matter of hours. But no ski masks or guns were used. There were no notes to bank tellers, no threats to innocent bystanders.
This operation was conceived and carried out by cyber criminals. Their target? On February 19, 2013 they struck thousands of neighborhood ATMs in a matter of hours. In New York alone, they hit 2,904 machines and withdrew $2.4 million.
This May federal prosecutors in Brooklyn unsealed an indictment charging eight members of the New York faction. The alleged conspirators included the suspected ringleader (found dead on April 27 in the Dominican Republic). The indictment offered a glimpse into one of the most sophisticated and effective cybercrime attacks ever uncovered.
Like the plot from a thriller novel “in the place of guns and masks this cybercrime organization used laptops and the Internet,” stated Loretta E. Lynch, U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, at a press conference. Over a period of time, this cybercrime organization had developed a huge database of illegally-acquired personal information, stockpiling bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, passwords and other useful material until the time was right.
Then the criminal organization moved “as swiftly as data over the Internet . . . from the computer systems of international corporations to the streets of New York City, [a crew of] defendants fanning out . . . to steal millions of dollars.”
It was very fortunate that task force agencies were alert and responded quickly to this global cyber-attack. It is also fortunate that all the victims of this attack will recover their losses.
This fantastic scheme shows is one thing: What’s under the hard-shell surface of our banking system is still sometimes vulnerable. Banking always wants to appear impregnable, but maybe (if one looks closely, as these cyber-criminals had) it has tiny cracks.
But this doesn’t mean go stuff a mattress with money and abandon banking.
The Electronic Age has speeded – and improved – countless areas of our personal and collective lives. It also means we are extremely dependent on a global network for so many things, in this case banking enterprise. We’ve willingly traded the “old school” tradition of banking for greater ease (ATMs, online banking and direct deposit, e.g.) – and with these changes come new problems, unthought-of before.
If anything, the Brooklyn indictment proves the tug-of-war between bank protection and international crime’s creativity still goes on – as it always has – even when everything seems safe and quiet. Vulnerability is never completely erased. It just changes where it may be.
— Stephen Heath-Jones