Hackers infiltrated Mexico’s banking system to transfer millions of dollars to bogus accounts and then made cash machines shell out the money, in a case that reveals the country’s structural vulnerability to cyber crime.
Authorities have arrested a group of hackers known as the “Bandidos Revolutions Team," which infiltrated Mexico’s domestic financial transfer system, Wired reported. The hackers were able to divert money to false accounts that they controlled. Their associates were then sent to the ATMs to withdraw the cash, netting the group between 100 million and 300 million pesos (between $5.2 million and $15.7 million) per month.
In April of last year, the group carried out the largest cyber attack in Mexican history, siphoning off hundreds of millions of pesos from several banks. Following the attack, Bank of Mexico Governor Alejandro Díaz announced that a new cyber crime unit would be created and tasked with helping Mexico's banks better protect themselves from cyber attacks.
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The Bandidos Revolutions Team, which operated in several states in northern Mexico, was made up of a dozen young men in their twenties and thirties. On May 15, the leader of the group, Héctor Ortiz Solares, also known as "H-1," was arrested alongside eight other members in the city of Léon. During the arrests, police seized some two dozen luxury cars, as well as motorcycles, weapons, cash, drugs and computer equipment. A number of extravagant purchases made by Solares alerted police to the group's whereabouts.
The group also drew police attention last April after transferring 500 million pesos (around $26 million) to 849 false accounts. In early March, authorities closed in on the group after ATMs in Léon and Tijuana suddenly began spitting out cash.
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Mexico has had some success in preventing cyber attacks, most notably in January of 2018, when authorities thwarted an attempt to steal $100 million by the Lazarus Group, a cyber crime syndicate with suspected links to North Korea. But major failures continue to occur.
Ironically, the Bandidos Revolutions Team stole millions of dollars using the same tactics that the North Koreans had employed. Cyber crime has increased in Mexico, and only Brazil has faced more cyber crime attacks in Latin America. The banking system remains vulnerable, as shown by the enormous amount of cash the Bandidos Revolutions Team managed to steal.
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The group had been operating for at least five years, but police began tracking them just last year. Their capture ultimately was due to their inability to keep a low profile, and not the ability of Mexican security forces to thwart their attacks.
Experts at the US-based cybersecurity company Symantec have pointed out that, despite such major attacks, little has been done to shore up Mexico’s defense mechanisms against cyber crime. They also expressed little confidence that the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is paying attention to the issue, and warned that cyber criminals will continue to target Mexican institutions in hopes of pulling off another multimillion-dollar heist.