The British defense contractor BAE Systems has revealed that hackers in Bangladesh targeted and were able to bypass software from SWIFT.

According to reports, BAE made the discovery following an investigation into the theft of $81m from the Bangladesh central bank earlier this year.

SWIFT, or the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, is used by 11,000 banks and other institutions across the globe.

James Maude, senior security engineer at Avecto said:

“In the current threat landscape we are seeing attackers with an increased level of awareness of the systems they are targeting. In the past 12 months we have seen POS malware designed to target specific payment systems on tills, ransomware designed to target healthcare providers and now malware targeting the SWIFT Alliance Access systems.

“Although the attackers have demonstrated a high level of skill and understanding of the SWIFT payment system it is a fundamental security flaw that an unknown malicious executable was allowed to run on such a privileged system. It is worrying that despite years of expert analysis and opinion showing that application whitelisting, least privilege and patching are the top defenses against cyber-attacks, organisations are failing to act.

“We always advocate trying to prevent an attack as early in the kill chain as possible, in this case the unknown applications appearing on a secure server should have been a red flag and blocked or immediately investigated. If this had been the case the attack could have been prevented and investigated before it even had chance to interact with financial data. Unfortunately as with so many attacks we see there is a huge reliance on detection solutions which simply cannot keep up with targeted attacks. It is vitally important that organizations regain control of applications and privileges within their environment to reduce their attack surface and prevent sophisticated attacks.”