Hackers in Japan steal $13 mil from ATMs in just three hours
A group of hackers in Japan (or at least last seen in Japan) connected to an international crime syndicate just pulled off a heist that would make for a solid movie plot. It’s also a somewhat terrifying reminder of how vulnerable many systems really are.
Beginning at 5am on May 15, around 100 people entered convenience stores and other business with ATMs throughout Japan. Using cloned credit card data, the people in question accessed over 1,400 ATMs. They took out 100,000 yen (roughly $900) from each machine, the maximum allowable, then they did it again and again. In three hours they had recorded 14,000 withdraws for a total of ¥1.4 billion (roughly $12.7 million). They then disappeared with the cash without anyone around them having a clue that they were potentially witnesses in an international crime spanning at least two countries.
The group responsible is believed to be part of an international crime organization operating around the world. The cards were cloned from the South African Standard Bank, which claims the actual figure lost in card fraud is closer to $19 million. It’s not clear exactly how the hackers breached the bank’s cyber security, but an investigation is underway.
The bank stated that it is planning on eating the losses. Customers won’t be affected by the theft.
Japanese police are currently working with their counterparts in South Africa, but no arrests have been made. There is video evidence from the ATMs, but given the sophistication of the crimes and the intricate planning that went into this heist, the odds are good that the people making the withdraws knew they were being watched and planned accordingly.
While hacking ATMs is becoming a more and more common crime, this heist was something else. The ATMs in this instance worked perfectly. They read the data off the card as they were supposed to, then issued the money accordingly. In this case, the weak link belongs to the bank. That in no way excuses the hackers that stole the data, but if a bank can stand to lose $19 million, it can afford better cyber security.
Although there is no direct evidence linking this heist with any other crimes, Japan has been hit with similar ATM thefts before. Over the last two years, more than ¥4.6 billion (approximately $41 million) has been illegally withdrawn from 26 countries, including Japan.