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Hackers hit US, Russian banks in ATM robbery scam

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Previously undetected group of Russian-language hackers silently stole nearly 10 million dollars from at least 18 mostly United States and Russian banks in recent years by targeting interbank transfer systems, a Moscow-based security firm said.

Group-IB warned that the attacks, which began 18 months ago and allowed money to be stolen from banks’ Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), appeared to be ongoing and that banks in Latin America could be targeted next.

The first attack occurred in the spring of 2016 against banks in First Data’s (FDC.N) “STAR” network, the largest U.S. bank messaging system connecting ATMs at more than 5,000 organisations, Group-IB researchers said in a 36-page report.

First Data said in a statement that a number of small financial institutions operating on STAR network had had their credentials breached for administering debit cards earlier in 2016, leading it to implement new mandatory security controls.

The firm said the STAR network was never itself breached.

It said it was investigating some incidents where hackers studied how to make money transfers through the SWIFT banking system, while stopping short of saying whether any such attacks had been carried out successfully.

SWIFT said in October that hackers were still targeting its interbank messaging system, but security controls instituted after last year’s 81 million dollars heist at Bangladesh’s Central Bank had thwarted many of those attempts.

Group-IB has dubbed the hacker group “MoneyTaker” after the name of the software it used to hijack payment orders to then cash out funds through a network of low-level “money mules.”

The Moscow-based security firm said the hacker group hired “money mules” to pick up money from automated teller machines.

The security researchers said they had identified 18 banks which were hit, including 15 across 10 states in the United States, two in Russia and one in Britain.

“Besides banks, financial software firms and one law firm were targeted.

“The average amount of money stolen in each of the 14 U.S. ATM heists was 500,000 dollars per incident. Losses in Russia averaged 1.2 million dollars per incident.

“However, one bank there managed to catch the attack and return some of the stolen funds,” Group-IB said.

It said hackers also stole documentation for Ocean Systems’ Fed Link transfer system used by 200 banks in Latin America and the United States.

It said in addition, they successfully attacked the Russian interbank messaging system known as AW CRB.

Once hackers penetrated targeted banks and financial organisations, they stole internal bank documentation in order to mount future ATM attacks, Group-IB said.

In Russia, the hackers continued to spy on bank networks after break-ins, while at least one U.S. bank had documents robbed twice, it said.

Group-IB said it had notified Interpol and Europol in order to assist in law enforcement investigations.

The unidentified hackers used a mix of constantly changing tools and tactics to bypass anti-virus and other traditional security software while being careful to eliminate traces of their operations, helping them to go largely unnoticed.

To disguise their moves, hackers used security certificates from brands such as Bank of America, the Fed, Microsoft and Yahoo, it said.

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24 Hours Across Africa

Ghana draws African-American tourists with ‘Year of Return

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US preacher Roxanne Caleb blinked away the tears as she emerged from a pitch-dark dungeon where African slaves were once held before being shipped across the Atlantic to America.

“I wasn’t prepared for this. I’m heartbroken,” she told AFP as she toured the Cape Coast slave fort on Ghana’s ocean shore.

“My mind still can’t wrap around the fact that a human being can treat another worse than a rat.”

Caleb is among the African-American visitors flocking to Ghana as it marks the “Year of Return” to remember the 400th anniversary of the first slave ship landing in Virginia.

The West African nation is banking on the commemorations to give a major boost to the number of tourist arrivals as it encourages the descendants of slaves to “come home”.

Cape Coast Castle, 150 kilometres (90 miles) from the capital Accra, is a major magnet for those visiting

The white-washed fort lined with cannons was one of dozens of prisons studding the Atlantic coast where slaves were held before their journey to the New World.

A string of prominent African-Americans have headed to the site this year to mark the anniversary since the first slave landing in 1619.

Among them was a delegation of Congressional Black Caucus led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that toured last month.

– ‘Can’t forget history’ –

For those visiting it is an emotional rite of passage.

“This has been understanding my history and my roots where I came from,” Caleb said.

“I am very thankful I came here as part of the Year of Return.”

Sampson Nii Addy, a corrections officer with the Montgomery police department in Alabama, said he and his family had found the tour an “education”.

“I think every black person needs to come around to learn history; how people were treated,” the 52-year-old told AFP.

“We can’t forget history but we can always learn something from it.”

Ghana, one of the continent’s most stable democracies, has long pitched itself as a destination for African-Americans to explore their heritage and even settle permanently.

In 2009 President Barack Obama visited with his family and paid homage at the Cape Coast Castle.

The “Year of Return” has added fresh impetus and the country is hoping it will increase visitor numbers from 350,000 in 2018 to 500,000 this year, including 45,000 African-Americans.

Kojo Keelson has spent nine years guiding tour groups around the Cape Coast Castle and says 2019 has seen a surge in interest as Ghana looks to rake in tourism revenue of $925 million (830 million euros).

“It’s like a pilgrimage. This year we’ve a lot more African-Americans coming through than the previous year,” he told AFP.

“I’m urging all of them to come home and experience and reconnect to the motherland.”

– ‘Love to come again’ –

Akwasi Awua Ababio, the official coordinating “Year of Return” events, pointed to high hotel occupancy rates as he said “enthusiasm is very high and we’ve got huge numbers coming from the US and Caribbean”.

He insisted that beyond the major economic boost, Ghana was also looking to use the new connections it is forging to convince the descendants of slaves to resettle for good and help the country develop.

“Human resource is always an asset and we need to see how we can welcome them home to utilise their expertise and networks,” the director for diaspora affairs at the presidency said.

The African American Association of Ghana brings together those who have moved to West Africa and offers help to integrate them into their new surroundings.

President Gail Nikoi praised the “Year of Return” initiative by Ghanaian leader Nana Akufo-Addo and said the country was “setting the stage for future engagements and involvement of African-Americans and other Africans from the diaspora in the development of this country.”

But she said the authorities could still be doing more to help attract arrivals and convince them to stay.

“Dialogue and engagement is the first step,” she said.

While most of those visiting Cape Coast were not thinking about settling back permanently — they said the trip had opened their eyes to both their own history and what Ghana has to offer.

“It has broadened my horizons about how we came to be here and what our ancestors went through,” said William Shaw, 57, from Montgomery.

“I would love to come again. There is a lot more to see here in Ghana… at least once in a year I’d advise African-Americans to come back to their native land and learn about their history.”

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Iran displays domestically built mobile missile defense system

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Iran displayed what it described as a domestically built long-range, surface-to-air missile air defense system on Thursday, at a time of rising tension with the United States.

Iran shot down a U.S. military surveillance drone in the Gulf with a surface-to-air missile in June. It says the drone was over its territory, but the United States says it was in international airspace.

State television showed President Hassan Rouhani attending an unveiling ceremony for the mobile Bavar-373 system, which Iranian media have described as a competitor to the Russian S-300 missile system.

“With this long-range air defense system, we can detect … targets or planes at more than 300 km (190 miles), lock it at about 250 km, and destroy it at 200 km,” Defence Minister Amir Hatami told state television.

The system’s unveiling came on Iran’s National Defence Industry Day. Iran has developed a large domestic arms industry in the face of international sanctions and embargoes that have barred it from importing many weapons.

Western military analysts say Iran often exaggerates its weapons capabilities, though concerns about its long-range ballistic missile program contributed to Washington last year leaving the pact that Iran sealed with world powers in 2015 to rein in its nuclear ambitions in exchange for an easing of economic sanctions.

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned at a U.N. Security Council meeting that, under the Iran nuclear deal, a United Nations arms embargo on Iran was due to expire in October 2020.

Source: Reuters

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