How Rwanda Police Foiled US$700, 000 Bank Heist

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A transnational criminal group nearly pulled off a historic cyber-heist of one of Rwanda’s biggest banks, highlighting how even the most advanced cyber security systems can be breached by what could soon be seen as the most common form of crime in the region

Last year, a criminal group comprised of Rwandans and foreigners hatched a plan to hack into the international transaction system of a local commercial bank to steal US$700, 000. The money was to be transferred from accounts of five public institutions hosted by the targeted bank, and wired to an account in another country.

To achieve their plan, the criminals forged business contracts with the five targeted institutions, which in turn helped them to secure a swift code that would facilitate them to wire the money to their account.

How the plan was foiled

However, the theft was foiled by the Rwanda National Police (RNP) cyber investigation unit, earlier in the day when the transaction was to be carried out, apparently by a hacker, who was based in foreign country.

Two people, who include a former employee of the targeted bank, who were coordinating the theft locally, were arrested.

“We tracked the communication system and found it was based in Europe; we tracked the IP server and it led us to a local targeted bank, and that’s how we managed to prevent the theft and to track and arrest some of the suspects,” Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Morris Muligo, the acting Commissioner for the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), said.

According to police statistics, cyber related crimes constituted 0.36 percent of the total high impact crimes registered last year, most of which were either foiled or the stolen recovered, according to ACP Muligo.

In general, crimes reduced by 12 percent last year compared to the previous year, with high impact crimes which also include narcotic drugs, house break-in, embezzlement, murder and defilement constituting about 53 percent of the total crimes.

“The cyber-crimes included email hacking, electronic money transfer and forged documents,” he said.

“Information technological development in policing is among the priorities of RNP. So far, we have the digital forensic lab and a cyber-fusion centre, among others, capable of detecting, preventing and combating cyber-anabled crimes,” ACP Muligo said.

“The government is greatly supporting the police cyber system and e-policing in general to stay ahead of criminals, who take advantage of technological development to commit crimes. The institution is increasing the capacity and capabilities through training to enhance detection, skill and knowledge involved to support credible investigations through modern equipment to support scientific evidence.” he noted.

Cybercrime centre of excellence

According to Chief Supt. Oscar Sakindi, the commissioner for IT and cyber department in RNP, the operationalisation of the ‘Regional Cyber-crime centre of excellence’ currently under construction, which will be connected to other global Cyber Crime Centers of Lyon (France) and The INTERPOL Global Complex for Innovation (IGCI) in Singapore, will further supplement other initiative like the national forensic laboratory and bilateral and multilateral cooperation, to ensure a solid platform against IT-facilitated crimes.

The regional centre of excellence will host the digital forensic laboratory (mobile and disk forensics, and malware analysis), cyber fusion centre and cybercrime investigations.

The Financial Investigation Unit (FIU) operating under the National Bank of Rwanda, as a national reporting centre has also been significant in investigating, collecting, analyzing and disseminating information against money laundering and financing terrorism.

The FIU froze and stopped suspicious bank transactions equivalent to US210, 000 dollars in 2012, US160, 000 dollars in 2014 and 22 bank accounts were frozen in 2015, although these transactions were not related to money laundering or terrorism financing, according to police.

Under FIU, a money laundering staff was appointed in each of the 16 commercial banks and financial institutions, a Suspicious Transaction Report (STR) format was designed to help financial institutions to report online suspicious transactions to FIU.

Through the Interpol’s I-24/7 communication system, which connects all the 190 member countries, RNP also managed to intercept close to 40 vehicles stolen from other countries, international drug dealers, human traffickers and victims

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