Users log off permanently to avoid cyber fraud

This file photo shows a Pakistani resident waiting to withdraw currency from an ATM in Islamabad on March 4, 2015. (AFP)
Updated 08 November 2018
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Users log off permanently to avoid cyber fraud

  • Security of nearly 20,000 bank accounts compromised in recent heists
  • Experts blame regulator and financial bodies for failure to prevent online attacks

KARACHI: Following a spate of cyberattacks on Pakistan’s banks, several account holders said on Thursday that they were forced to take precautionary measures to secure their savings.
“I have closed my online account because of the ongoing cyber-attacks. The banks are not sharing details of what is happening, so I’ve decided to close the accounts having experienced the trouble of dealing with banks,” Abdul Samad Memon, a 35-year-old businessman, told Arab News.
Samad is not the only account holder to opt out. Dozens of individuals have either voluntarily closed their accounts or requested their banks to block access as a precautionary measure. “I have asked my bank to close my online account and now I will withdraw cash through checks to be on the safer side,” Muhammad Salahuddin, a retired government employee said. 
Authorities from several banks also said that they had notified their customers about the move. Muhammad Rehan, a school teacher, said he had received the notification from his bank and did not have an issue with the standard operating procedure as it is a “good step under the current circumstances”.
In the news recently, major financial institutions reported losing billions of rupees through fraudulent activities. Prime among these were transactions involving identify theft, whereby hackers would create fake accounts using the details of another person, mostly from an underprivileged background. Case in point was an incident reported by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) whereby it had seized the bank account of an ice-cream vendor who had Rs2.25 billion in his savings account.
“The hacking incidents show that nothing is reliable. Even though withdrawing cash by using fake checks has been the practice in the past, I still believe it is safer as compared to online banking,” Baber Sharif, a shopkeeper, said.
Adding insult to injury was the case of Pakistan’s BankIslami which reported that its security system had been breached on October 27, resulting in major losses for the company.
The extent of the online hacking came to light on Monday, when FIA’s cyber-crime chief, Captain (retd) Mohammad Shoaib said that customers’ data from almost all major Pakistani banks had been stolen in a recent security breach.
The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), however, rejected the FIA’s findings, clarifying that the data of only one bank had been compromised. “SBP categorically rejects such reports. There is no evidence to this effect nor has this information been provided to the SBP by any bank or law enforcement agency,” the central bank said in a statement.
However, officials from the Pakistan Computer Emergency Response Team (PakCERT), a cybersecurity services provider, reported that on October 26, a data dump was posted on the Internet highlighting the details of more than 9,000 debit cards, out of which 8,864 belonged to customers of Pakistani banks. 
“The [security details of the] compromised cards were sold at a price ranging from between $100 and $160. The second dump was posted on October 31 with over 12,000 cards on darknet comprising 11,000 cards from Pakistani banks,” the report added.
According to the PakCERT, security details of a total of 19,864 cards from 22 Pakistani banks were compromised.
Experts believe that the breach was not the act of any one individual but rather a group of individuals as the fraud was carried out in a sophisticated and organized manner. “The pattern of infiltration clearly shows that there was more than one entity involved,” S M Arif, a financial expert and banking technologist, told Arab News.
“We have to evaluate whether only the data which was available in the dark web was compromised or other data was used as well,” Arif said, adding that in circumstances where the data from one country is used for withdrawal purposes in another country while a third individual is the beneficiary “could only be done by those who have access to the data”. “The withdrawals have taken place through a financial system which means it is the failure of multiple entities on multiple points,” he said.
A B Shahid, a senior banker, told Arab News that the recent incidents of cyber-fraud have exposed the loopholes in the financial system and shaken the confidence of customers. “The customers believed that the banking systems was most reliable and secure for their savings but their confidence has been shaken to a large extent,” he said.
Holding the SBP and the management of various banks responsible for the infiltration and hacking, Shahid said that the financial bodies could have taken a cue from Wikileaks which had “exposed the system’s weaknesses”.
“Wikileaks clearly demonstrated that data can be downloaded and used for various reasons. In the race to promote electronic banking in Pakistan, neither the regulator nor the banks’ management took steps to install an anti-hacking system which is clearly evident from the recent incidents,” he said.


Iranian FM leaves Pakistan with little more than promise of moral support

Updated 26 May 2019
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Iranian FM leaves Pakistan with little more than promise of moral support

  • Mounting tensions between Tehran and Washington are threatening to blow up into an all-out conflict
  • Pakistani foreign minister assures Iran ready to work with all sides to lower regional tensions

ISLAMABAD: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif left Islamabad Friday evening after a two-day visit in which Pakistan said it was ready to work with all sides to help lower mounting tensions between the Islamic Republic and the United States, though experts believe Islamabad can offer Tehran little more than moral support. 
Zarif arrived in Islamabad on Thursday night, ahead of next week’s emergency Arab League meeting summoned by Saudi Arabia over escalating tensions in the Arabian Gulf region.
“Foreign Minister Qureshi conveyed that Pakistan stood ready to work with all sides to help lower tensions and preserve peace and stability in the region,” the Pakistani foreign office said in a statement on Thursday night. “He also emphasized that Pakistan did not favor a conflict and believed that all sides should exercise maximum restraint and work in a spirit of easing the tensions.”
The United States pulled out of an agreement between Iran and world powers a year ago that limited Iran’s nuclear program in return for lifting economic sanctions. This month tensions have risen sharply following US President Donald Trump’s decision to try to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero and beef up US military presence in the Gulf in response to what he says are Iranian threats.
“Any miscalculation or accident could escalate the tensions to a dangerous level,” the foreign office statement said, quoting Qureshi.
Britain, France and Germany, which signed the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, along with the United States, China and Russia, are determined to show they can compensate for last year’s US withdrawal from the deal, protect trade and still dissuade Tehran from quitting an accord designed to prevent it developing a nuclear bomb.
But Iran’s decision earlier this month to backtrack from some commitments in response to US measures to cripple its economy threatens to unravel the deal, under which Tehran agreed to curbs on its uranium enrichment program in exchange for the removal of most international sanctions.
Speaking about the nuclear deal, the Pakistan foreign minister said Pakistan supported the plan and “noted the efforts of the other parties to the Agreement to salvage the deal.”
“Faithful implementation of obligations by all parties was vitally important,” he said in a veiled reference to the US pulling out of the deal and Iran backtracking on some commitments.
Zarif also met with Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday and discussed issues of “bilateral interest,” according to a statement from the PM Office. In a statement released after Zarif called on army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the military leader was quoted as saying, “war is not in anyone’s interest and all sides need to make efforts to keep conflict away from the region.”
Shamshad Ahmad, a former foreign secretary, said the Iranian foreign minister’s visit to Islamabad was part of a “consultative process” between the two neighboring countries to chalk out ways to tackle the unraveling situation in the Arabian Gulf.
“We are geo-politically linked with Iran, and if something bad happens to Iran, Pakistan will automatically feel its consequences,” Ahmad told Arab News. “Javad Zarif is here to explain Iran’s position and take the Pakistani leadership into confidence over the recent regional tensions.”
Ahmad said the timing of Zarif’s visit was “very important” just days before Prime Minister Khan is due to visit Saudi Arabia on May 31 to participate in a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) body.
“The situation emerging in the Gulf is very serious not only for Iran, but also for the whole region,” he said, “But Pakistan can only extend moral support to Iran in the current scenario. We have our own limitations and international obligations to abide by … [we] cannot risk falling into the trap of US sanctions.”
This month, Pakistan said it had informed Iran in writing that it could not execute a $7 billion Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project as long as Tehran was under a United States sanctions regime, driving the final nail in the coffin of a project that was conceived in the 1990s to connect Iran’s giant South Pars gas field to India via Pakistan.
Tehran formally issued a notice to Islamabad in February this year, saying it was moving an arbitration court against Pakistan for failing to lay down the pipeline in Pakistani territory in the timeframe stipulated in the bilateral agreement. Pakistan has until August this year to legally respond to Iran’s notice and settle the issue through negotiations.
Relations between Iran and Pakistan have been strained in recent months, with both sides accusing each other of not doing enough to stamp out militants allegedly sheltering across the border.
During Friday’s meeting between the Pakistani and Iranian foreign ministers, they spoke about ways to improve ties, including discussions on how to increase bilateral trade, facilitate people to people contact, open new border markets and crossing points, and enhance security in their frontier regions.