Hong Kong launches fresh plan to fortify cyber security after SWIFT heist

By Reuters/Saikat Chatterjee   May 18, 2016 | 08:22 pm PT
Hong Kong's central bank has a launched a new program to strengthen lenders' ability to protect their critical technology systems after recent attacks by unidentified groups on a global messaging system used by the financial community.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority's latest measure, known as the "Cybersecurity Fortification Initiative (CFI)," plans to raise the level of cyber security at banks in Hong Kong through a three-pronged approach and follows similar steps taken by its counterparts from London to Vietnam.

The FBI, authorities in Dhaka and private forensic experts are investigating the February cyber heist in Bangladesh where thieves raided a central bank account kept at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, stealing $81 million.

They installed malware inside the bank's Dhaka headquarters that hid traces of their attack in a bid to delay discovery so they could access the funds, according to police and private security firms.

The theft prompted fresh attacks on other central banks within the region, with Vietnam's Tien Phong Bank saying earlier this week it had interrupted an attempted cyber heist that involved the use of fraudulent SWIFT messages, the same technique at the heart of February's massive theft from the Bangladesh central bank.

The Bank of England joined its counterparts in Singapore and the Philippines, asking banks to increase their checks on security systems in the wake of the attacks.

The HKMA will issue a formal circular next week to all banks setting out that it is a supervisory requirement for them to implement the CFI, a spokeswoman said. 

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