Banks tighten SWIFT system security after hacks

Thu Sep 29, 2016 1:56pm EDT
 
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By Tom Bergin

GENEVA (Reuters) - Banks are tightening the security of their SWIFT messaging networks – used by the industry to shift trillions of dollars each day – following revelations that hackers are increasingly able to get into this system to steal money.

Bankers at SWIFT's annual SIBOS conference in Geneva said they were adopting new security tools, reviewing procedures and pressing their counterparties to do the same. Some banks are also looking at alternative technologies for transferring money, such as blockchain-type systems.

They are stepping up their efforts after the theft of $81 million from the Bangladesh central bank in February and revelations of other infiltration of banks’ SWIFT terminals. These hacks have undermined confidence in SWIFT messages, which were previously accepted at face value.

“The attacks will continue and get more sophisticated,” SWIFT Chief Executive Gottfried Leibbrandt warned delegates at the conference organized by SWIFT, which is a global member-owned cooperative.

Benoit Desserre, Global Head of Global Transaction Banking at France’s Societe Generale, said his bank had already undertaken all of SWIFT’s recommended security measures but that the hacks had encouraged it to go one step further.

The bank is introducing a new layer of security whereby the staff who are approved to send SWIFT payment instructions must now sign on with a fingerprint scanner. This is in addition to passwords and a physical computer key.

“It was easier for us to make that investment knowing what has happened,” he told Reuters in an interview. "It suddenly became more important to get something like that.”

In time, SocGen may press its counterparties to use a similar system, only agreeing to fulfill payment instructions which carry a digital fingerprint, Desserre said. But he said cost could slow a broader roll-out of the technology.   Continued...

 
Swift code bank logo is displayed on an iPhone 6s on top of Euro banknotes in this picture illustration, January 26, 2016.   REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo