(AFP via South China Morning Post) – Three eastern Europeans were jailed for five years in Taiwan today (Jan. 25) over a US$2.6 million cyberheist that used malware to hack into a major local bank’s ATM network.
The attack, the first of its kind in Taiwan, targeted the First Commercial Bank’s ATM network in July and saw money withdrawn from dozens of machines in three cities. The team of masked robbers stole cash in less than 10 minutes but 19 suspects fled the island after the theft.
Thai police said they believe a gang of foreign criminals who stole millions of baht by hacking Government Savings Bank’s ATM network last year is linked to the one in Taiwan.
Last August hackers made off with at least 12 million baht from the ATMs of Government Savings Bank in Bangkok and other provinces.
Police said at least 21 ATMs were hacked, some of them spitting out up to a million baht at a time. They said the bank had not immediately noticed the theft.
Those behind the heist stood for long periods at the cash machines, usually late at night, prompting police to ask Thais to watch out for strange behavior by foreigners at cash machines.
The suspects in the Taiwan cyberheist had uncovered a security loophole in a server at the bank’s London branch office and used it to plant the malware, according to Taiwanese authorities.
Latvian Andrejs Peregudovs, together with Mihail Colibaba from Romania and Niklae Penkov from Moldova, were convicted of causing damage to the public by breaching computer security, said the Taipei district court.
They were also each fined NT$600,000 (around 674,870 baht or US$19,000) and would be deported after completing their sentences, the court said. They can appeal against the ruling.
Prosecutors had sought 12-year jail terms, saying that their multiple actions had “seriously disrupted financial order and caused public panic”.
However, court spokesman Liao Chien-yu said the judges had considered the illegal bank withdrawals as one case, which carried a maximum five-year sentence.
Prosecutors have said it was the first case of a multinational crime ring hacking into a bank’s computer system to plant malware.
Taiwan’s government has added 19 other suspects, including one Australian, one French national and an unknown number of eastern Europeans, to its wanted list after they fled the island following the heist.
Surveillance images released by the bank showed masked robbers working in two-man teams targeting 41 ATMs in three cities between July 9 and 11. Within five to 10 minutes, the thieves were seen walking away with bags full of stolen cash.
Police arrested the trio in Taipei and northeastern Yilan county several days after the heist and recovered most of the stolen money.
Top: Banknotes from the US$2.6 million cyberheist were found in the hotel room of one of the three suspects arrested. Photo: Reuters’ Tyrone Siu via South China Morning Post