Police in the UK have arrested four men suspected of hacking the Bank of Valetta in Malta and making off with €13 million (£14.4 million).
Malware was planted on the bank’s servers in February 2019, enabling the hackers to transfer money to several accounts around the world including the UK, the US, Hong Kong and the Czech Republic.
Bank of Valetta was forced to shut down all operations to prevent further transfers. However, the hackers managed to move £800,000 to an account in Belfast and a total of £340,000 was distributed before the account could be blocked.
Police followed the trail left by money spent on expensive items such as luxury cars, Rolex watches and shopping sprees.
Three men were arrested on Friday (31st January 2020); one man was detained at Heathrow Airport as he returned from China to the UK, while two others handed themselves in to a Belfast police station. Another man was arrested in Belfast and two more men in London after police raids on properties in the West Hampstead and Ladbroke Grove areas.
NCA Belfast branch commander David Cunningham said: “The focus of our investigation is those suspected of having helped launder the proceeds of this cyber-attack, a large amount of which were funnelled through a bank account here in Belfast.
“It demonstrates how this type of criminality is often international in nature, and how tackling it is a priority for the National Crime Agency and partners, both within the UK and around the world.”
The arrests follow on from a 12-month investigation by both the British police and the Malta Police Force Economic Crime Unit, as well as the NCA.
The 2019 attacks involved the creation of sophisticated false international payments. The attack was quickly detected by security forces, who informed the bank that it has been the target of a cyber-attack.
Attacks such as these had been reported in Malta in the past, but none has forced a lender to close operations.