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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

Hong kong train accident leaves eight injured.

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A rare train derailment disrupted services in Hong Kong on Tuesday, the rail operator said, threatening commuter chaos during rush hour.

The disruption to a usually seamless network used by nearly 6 million people every weekday happened after a train derailed while leaving a station in the Kowloon area, rail operator MTR Corp said.

The government’s information department said eight people were injured and five had been taken to hospital.

Rex Auyeung Pak-kuen, chairman of MTR Corp, told reporters that a derailment had not happened in many years and the cause was not immediately clear.

“We will work together with the government to find out the truth as soon as possible so as to continue to provide safe services,” he said. “We apologize that our passengers were injured in the accident.”

Hong Kong’s rail system has been a target of vandalism during recent pro-democracy protests, with activists angry that MTR has closed stations to stop protesters gathering.

Television footage showed hundreds of passengers trying to get off the derailed train. Public broadcaster RTHK said the train had suddenly swayed and a door had flown off before the train stopped.

Nearby stations were overcrowded, and intervals between trains were extended to 12 minutes from two.

MTR’s shares fell 1.1% in line with the broader Hang Seng Index, which was down 1%.

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24 Hours Across Africa

Rwanda ban Burundi,s music star ahead of annual festival

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Burundian musician Jean Pierre Nimbona, popularly known as Kidum, has told the BBC he is confused by Rwanda’s decision to ban him from playing at the upcoming Kigali Jazz Fusion festival.

Kidum is one of Burundi’s biggest music stars and has performed in Rwanda for the past 16 years.

But a police official phoned the musician’s manager to warn that he would only be allowed to make private visits to Rwanda.

“[My manager was told] Kidum is not supposed to perform, tell him to leave. If he comes for private visits fine, but no performances,” the musician told BBC’s Focus on Africa radio programme.

The mayor of Rwanda’s capital said that in this instance permission had not been sought from the authorities for him to perform at the festival in Kigali.

Kidum was a leading peace activist during Burundi’s civil war between 1993 and 2003 and used his songs to call for reconciliation.

The 44-year-old musician said he had never had problems with Rwandan authorities until recently when three of his shows were cancelled at the last minute – including one in December 2018.

That month Burundi had banned Meddy, a musician who is half-Burundian, half-Rwandan, from performing in the main city of Bujumbura.

Kidum said he was unsure if the diplomatic tensions between Burundi and Rwanda had influenced his ban.

“I don’t know, I don’t have any evidence about that. And if there was politics, I’m not a player in politics, I’m just a freelance musician based in Nairobi,” he said.

He said he would not challenge the ban: “There’s nothing I can do, I just wait until maybe the decision is changed some day.

“It’s similar to a family house and you are denied entry… so you just have to wait maybe until the head of the family decides otherwise.”

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