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Gang exploits both physical and system security during bank robbery

Steve Ragan | Sept. 23, 2013
UK Police arrest eight men in connection with a reported $2-million robbery at Barclays Bank, accomplished by compromising both physical and system security

The Metropolitan Police Central e-Crime Unit (PCeU) arrested eight men, aged between 24 and 27, on Thursday, in connection to a robbery from the Swiss Cottage branch of Barclays Bank in April. According to police statements, the theft resulted in the loss of 1.3 million pounds ($2 million), but the bank managed to recover most of the stolen funds.

In an unusual twist, one rarely mentioned or seen when it comes to financially motivated cybercrime, the men allegedly mixed physical penetration and social engineering with system compromise in order to carry out their crimes. When Barclays reported the robbery in April, police investigated the incident, and conducted a search of the Swiss Cottage Barclays branch in North London. During this search, investigators discovered a KVM switch attached to a 3G router hooked up to one of the branch computers.

"It was later established that the previous day a male purporting to be an IT engineer had gained access to the branch, falsely stating he was there to fix computers. He had then deployed the KVM device. This enabled the criminal group to remotely transfer monies to predetermined back accounts under the control of the criminal group," a PCeU statement explained.

Police say the men operated from a control center in central London, but residences in Westminster, Newham, Camden, Brent, and Essex, are also being searched. So far, the searches have yielded cash, jewelry, drugs, thousands of credit cards and personal data. The idea that the criminals used physical penetration as well as system compromise "demonstrates the rapidly evolving nature of low risk, high financial yield cyber enabled crime," the law enforcement agency said.

"Those responsible for this offence are significant players within a sophisticated and determined Organized Criminal Network, who used considerable technical abilities and traditional criminal know-how to infiltrate and exploit secure banking systems," the PCeU's Detective Inspector Mark Raymond said in a statement.

Last week, police arrested 12 men over what was called an "audacious" plot to use the exact same methods to rob the Surrey Quays branch of Santander, south-east London. According to police, someone posing as an engineer attempted to fit a KVM and modem to a computer in the Surrey branch. However, due to the Barclays investigation, the attempt failed.

In a statement, Santander said they had been working with the police for months before the false engineer arrived and made his attempt, as the bank was made aware that the criminal network was targeting them. Four of the men arrested as part of the Barclays heist are also being charged in the attempted robbery Santander.

"This was a highly-organized criminal network with each individual filling a specific role. All criminal networks have a head and we very much believe we have now apprehended our 'Mr. Big' as part of this operation," Wilson told the BBC in a statement.


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