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VALLETTA (Reuters) – Bank of Valletta which accounts for almost half of Malta’s banking transactions, had to shut down all of its operations on Wednesday after hackers broke into its systems and shifted funds overseas.
FILE PHOTO: Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat at his office in Valletta, Malta January 9, 2019. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi/File Photo
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told parliament the cyber attack involved the creation of false international payments totaling 13 million euros ($ 14.7 million) to banks in Britain, the United States, the Czech Republic and Hong Kong.
The funds have been traced and the Bank of Valletta is seeking to have the fraudulent transactions reversed.
Muscat said the attack was detected soon after the start of business on Wednesday when discrepancies were noticed during the reconciliation of international transactions.
Shortly after, the bank was informed by state security services that it had received information from abroad that the company had been the target of a cyber attack.
To minimize risk and review its systems, the Bank of Valletta suspended operations, shuttering its branches on the Mediterranean island, closing ATMs and disabling its website.
Muscat said the fact such an important financial institute had gone off line had impacted the economy and caused problems abroad for credit card holders who needed to make payments, such as to hotels.
Alternative arrangements were being made with credit card companies to help those affected.
Muscat said the Bank of Valletta was also considering how to resume its operations gradually to make sure that such an attack could not be repeated. He told lawmakers that depositors’ funds had not been touched.
“The money did not come from people’s (accounts) and the amounts have been traced,” he said.
The bank earlier told customers that their accounts and funds were “in no way impacted or compromised” and that it was working to resume normal services.
The bank is also carrying out an internal review to establish where exactly the attack originated from and how it was instigated.
Maltese banks have in the past reported cyber attacks but this was the first time that a lender had to shut down all of its operations as a result.
Reporting by Chris Scicluna; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Jane Merriman
(Reuters) – A suburban New York hospital technician accused of using bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to launder money meant for the militant group Islamic State was arrested on charges of money laundering in support of a foreign terrorist organization and bank fraud, prosecutors said Thursday.
Federal prosecutors in New York’s Suffolk County claimed in court papers that Zoobia Shahnaz, 27, used fraudulent credit cards and loans to accumulate $ 85,000, which she attempted to transfer to the radical group Islamic State before attempting to go to Syria to join it.
Prosecutors said that after traveling to Jordan to work with the Syrian American Medical Society, Shahnaz returned to the United States and applied for six credit cards, which she used to buy bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
The resident of the hamlet of Brentwood in Islip on Long Island appeared before a federal judge late on Thursday and was ordered detained, prosecutors said.
Shahnaz’ lawyer, Steve Zissou, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the case.
After borrowing about $ 85,000 with fraudulently obtained credit cards and loans and withdrawing another $ 22,000 from bank accounts in her own name, Shahnaz sent funds to recipients in Pakistan, China and Turkey, prosecutors said.
Some of that money came in the form of $ 63,000 in bitcoin and other crypto-currencies purchased with the credit cards, prosecutors said.
Arraignment and detention documents released on Thursday showed that Shahnaz, a U.S. citizen born in Pakistan, was arrested on Wednesday.
Prosecutors said that in July Shahnaz obtained a Pakistani passport and booked a flight to Pakistan with a layover in Istanbul with the intention of going to Syria. She was stopped by law enforcement investigators at John F. Kennedy airport and questioned about her trip and the financial transactions, prosecutors said.
She had $ 9,500 in cash with her, just under the limit of $ 10,000 that a person can take out of the country without declaring it to immigration and customs officials, they said.
Subsequent searches of Shahnaz’ electronic devices showed numerous searches for Islamic State-related material, including travel checklists.
She faces three charges of money laundering, including money laundering in support of a foreign terrorist organization, and is also charged with bank fraud. She faces up to 20 years in prison on each of the money laundering charges and up to 30 years for the bank fraud charge.
Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Cynthia Osterman
A New York man says he was laughed at by an operator at Uber’s emergency hotline after reporting that he was sexually assaulted by an Uber driver this month. The operator later hung up after refusing to refer the man to her manager. The driver has since been banned from the platform.