Businesses facilitating money remittances from the UAE have been advised to take precautionary measures following unfounded reports that the funds transfer system in the region has been compromised.
An official from the Foreign Exchange and Remittance Group (Ferg) in the UAE said on Sunday that exchange houses need to ensure that the firewall protection they use is safe from intrusion by hackers, and that no outsider emails are opened in PCs intended for cash transactions.
“As the amounts involved are very large, it is important to cross-verify the security features of the firewall using some other company. Emails, specifically incoming with attachments, need to be separated from the PC that is used for processing remittances,” Rajiv Raipancholia, Ferg treasurer told Gulf News. “Regular updates of the virus scanners are required to keep your PCs clean.
The Ferg official is reacting to a report that the United States National Security Agency (NSA) has infiltrated the region’s Swift financial platform which is being used for international cash transfers.
The information, leaked on Friday by an elite group of hackers, Shadow Brokers, could enable criminals to hack into transactions and steal millions of money. “The release of these capabilities could enable fraud like we saw at Bangladesh Bank,” Shane Shook, a cybersecurity consultant, told Reuters. Shook was referring to a recent heist at the bank where hackers made $81 million.
Home to millions of working expatriates, the Middle East is considered one of the leading remittance hubs in the world, with the volume of money transfers rising significantly in 2015 alone. According to earlier Xpress Money estimates, some $120 billion (Dh440 billion) in funds were remitted from the region to different destinations around the world in 2015, an increase of 9 per cent from $110 billion in 2014.
Read more: Will UAE apply VAT on expat remittances too?
EastNets, the Dubai-based company that manages Swift, which is being used by approximately 11,000 banks and trading institutions, has dismissed the authenticity of the report.
The company said it has done a complete check of its servers and found no hacker compromise or any vulnerabilities.
“While we cannot ascertain the information that has been published, we can confirm that no EastNets customer data has been compromised in any way. EastNets continues to guarantee the complete safety and security of its customers’ data with the highest levels of protection from its Swift certified service bureau,” Hazem Mulhim, CEO and founder of EastNets.
In a statement, EastNets said that its service bureau runs on a separate secure network that cannot be accessed over the public networks. “The photos shown on twitter, claiming compromised information, is about pages that are outdated and obsolete, generated on a low-level server that is retired since 2013.”
By Cleofe Maceda
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