Gov’t vows to run after criminals behind P167-M cyber heist at UCPB

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Department of Finance (DOF) secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the government is firm on running after perpetrators of the P167-million cyber heist at the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) last June.

In a Viber message to journalists on Friday, Sept. 4, Dominguez said the DOF, which oversees government financial institutions (GFIs), is closely working with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and law enforcement agencies “to keep GFIs and the banking system safe, secure, and reliable”.

“No stone will be left unturned as we investigate this incident and as we strengthen all components of our security systems. We will also see to it that the perpetrators are caught, tried, and punished to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.

Dominguez said UCPB officials are working with the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and other concerned agencies since mid-June 2020 to uncover the crime.

He said the bank is also “reviewing and strengthening its IT (information and technology) and security controls” since he has instructed the officials of the various GFIs “to keep their security systems up-to-date and sophisticated”.

The cyber theft, which was first reported by local finance website bilyonaryo.com, occurred during the Independence Day weekend this year. In a report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, hackers were said to have used a combination of ATM withdrawals and online transfers to undertake the heist.

The Inquirer report said the hackers created 13 bank accounts with UCPB in May of this year and left them dormant until the heist a month later. The main perpetrators are believed to be Nigerians who appeared to have connived with local conspirators to withdraw the money in ATMs of various banks in the country.

The Inquirer report said investigators were able to obtain a CCTV video of a “black” person who was seen withdrawing money from a single BPI ATM 57 times during the three-day weekend holiday.

Dominguez said UCPB officials have assured the DOF that funds of clients were not affected by the incident. The bank registered a net income of P2.9 billion for the first half of 2020, according to Dominguez.

“We also assure the public that government financial institutions are consistently fortifying their cybersecurity systems. Client funds are safe and intact, and we are taking the necessary steps to protect our stakeholders,” he said.

Dominguez said state-owned financial institutions are “strictly complying” with the BSP’s circulars on information risks and security. “GFIs are consistently updating the security of their databases, servers, devices, and software to respond to new threats and vulnerabilities,” he said.

The institutions “are also taking proactive measures to verify vendors and business partners, and limiting 3rd-party access to critical programs”, the DOF chief said. — Joann Villanueva (PNA)

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