A daring attempt to graft a rogue piece of hardware onto a computer at a
London branch of Spanish bank Santander could have drained millions
from its coffers, police said Friday, an indication of the potential for
electronic crime to tear huge chunks off financial institutions'
London police and Santander said in a joint statement
that 12 suspects were arrested Thursday following an attempt by a bogus
maintenance engineer to install a keyboard-video-mouse - a device
typically used to control several computers at once - onto one of the
bank's computers at a branch located in a south London shopping center.
other technical details were released, but the statement said that the
hardware would have allowed the transmission of the entire computer's
desktop and "allowed the suspects to take control of the bank's computer
Writing on the blog of Internet security firm Sophos,
John Hawes said it wasn't clear how much damage the would-be robbers
might have done "even with access to a workstation."
systems were well controlled, secured and monitored, there should still
have been plenty of obstacles to overcome before they could find their
way into sensitive parts of the network, and move virtual cash out of
the bank's systems," he said.
Police said they took the attempted
robbery very seriously. In their statement, Det. Insp. Mark Raymond
described it as a "sophisticated plot that could have led to the loss of
a very large amount of money from the bank." The force put the
potential losses in the millions of pounds - although it stressed that
no money was ever withdrawn.
It's not clear from the statement
whether the person masquerading as an engineer was arrested at the
scene. Police said that all but one of the 12 suspects, ranging in age
from 23 to 50, were apprehended in the same west London neighborhood.
scale of the potential theft is another reminder of the huge amounts
that can be stolen by tech-savvy criminals. U.S. investigators say that
one gang operating across 27 countries recently managed to steal $45
million in two separate sprees after compromising payment systems used
by two Middle Eastern banks.
The suspects in the latest heist
remain in custody. Police said searches were being carried out in six
different locations in the greater London area. Santander said none of
its staff were involved in the attempted heist.