Broken printer costs Bangladesh $100mn in cyber heist

© Kai Pfaffenbach
The Central Bank of Bangladesh says a faulty printer prevented the timely discovery of a bold hacker attack on the bank’s overseas account. Cyber thieves managed to get away with $100 million while attempting to steal around $1 billion.

It took the regulator nearly four days to discover the problem and ask banks across the globe to halt payments to the hackers after the central bank's joint director Zubair bin Huda had noticed a glitch with a printer on February 5. The printer was set up to automatically print all SWIFT wire transfers.

"Since such glitches happened before, we thought it was a common problem just like any other day," Huda said in the complaint.

He then tried and failed to print out the messages manually from the SWIFT system.

The theft happened on Friday, a weekend in Muslim Bangladesh, so the official says he left the office and asked his colleagues to help fix the problem.

After the system was rebooted more than 24 hours later, the employees managed to print the receipts. They revealed dozens of questionable transactions to the Philippines, Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

The receipts showed the Federal Reserve Bank of New York had sent back queries to Bangladesh Bank against 46 payment orders in different messages.

Bangladesh officials tried to contact the New York Fed on Saturday and Sunday but failed as it was also a weekend in the US and nobody was available.

Part of the stolen money had been transferred to Filipino casinos. A transfer of $20 million was halted by a bank in Sri Lanka at the request of the Bangladesh Central Bank.

Bangladesh’s CB governor Atiur Rahman resigned this week, saying he took moral responsibility after failing to immediately inform the Finance Ministry of the theft. The country’s Finance Minister A.M.A. Muhith said he found out about the theft from newspapers a month after the fact. He threatened to sue the New York Federal Reserve.

An investigation is currently underway.