IN AN audacious cyber theft in February 2016, unnamed hackers withdrew $1 million from the national reserve by using a computer of a Bangladesh Bank official. The hackers sent managed, ostensibly from the central bank in Dhaka, to the New York Federal Reserve seeking to transfer nearly $1 billion from Bangladesh Bank’s account there. While most of the transfers were blocked, the hackers took away $101 million from the Bangladesh Bank and paid it to accounts in the Philippines; the amount included $81 million to four accounts in the names of individuals in Manila. The Philippine inquiry with limited involvement of Bangladesh has helped to recover $14.55 million and the recovered money was returned in November 2016. Since then, as New Age on reported Monday, there has been no progress in the recovery of the remaining amount. After the incident, the government set up a three-member investigation committee that submitted its final report in May 2016, but report is not made public. In what follows, the expert suspicion about the success of reserve recovery effort of the government is more than justified.
When asked about the lack of progress in the reserve recovery process, a central bank official tried to justify the delay suggesting that it involves a time consuming, cross-country, mutually agreed legal understanding. In the manner of assurance, he also said that a team of police and central bank officials was in Manila as part of the efforts to recover another $8.2 million, but Bangladesh is awaiting settlement of the legal process. The Philippines, on the other hand, indicated that the delay is because of lack of coordination and the refusal of the government to share the investigation report. Meanwhile, other recommendations made by the task force set up to recover the lost fund also remained unimplemented. The recommendation included taking assistance from China and filing cases against Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Experts have considered these recommendations very crucial to the effort as the Philippine investigation too, has, hinted that hackers in China may have been involved in routing the stolen funds through Manila. It is quite disconcerting that the task force is yet to make any decisive action in this regard.
The government, under the circumstances, must prioritise and expedite the reserve recovery process and ensure effective cyber security for financial institutions. It must also make the investigation report public as promised. Despite being the victim of a major cyber theft, the majority of the banks are still at risk of cyber attacks. More specifically, as New Age reported in May 2017, 80.5 per cent of information technology system in government offices and 52 per cent in bank systems have taken no proper measure to tackle the growing cyber threat. It must recognise that in a global environment in which information technology rules, the political economy and the issue of the country’s cyber security are inseparable from national security concerns. In the same vein, it is the duty of the incumbents to maintain the sovereign control of its cyberspace.
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