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Business News of Thursday, 25 June 2020


Cyber fraudsters cloning ATM cards to loot huge cash - BoA IT boss

Fraudsters have successfully cloned some ATM cards and withdrawn money belonging to depositors Fraudsters have successfully cloned some ATM cards and withdrawn money belonging to depositors

Cybercrime is increasing in Ghana and the world over in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic because many people are now resorting to the use of online services to conduct businesses, Mr Philemon Kwame Ankomah, Chief Information Security Officer with the Bank of Africa has revealed.

He explained that the hackers and cyber fraudsters are taking undue advantage of the pandemic to defraud people, citing an example in Ghana where they clone ATM cards used on off-site ATMs through which they make a lot of withdrawals.

Mr Ankomah said fraudsters have successfully cloned some ATM cards and withdrawn money belonging to depositors of banks, especially during the coronavirus period.

He was speaking during a business webinar themed: ‘Banking in a COVID-19 Environment, Dynamics for Corporates, SMEs and Individuals’ organised by the Bank of Africa in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI France Ghana), on Thursday, 25 June 2020.

Globally, he said, cybercrime has increased drastically, too, due to the pandemic because the criminals want to take advantage of the banks and other financial institutions that are adapting to new ways of transacting business.

Mr Ankomah explained that there are threats associated with the dynamics of the new normal in the wake of the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 has caused customers to push banking and businesses, in general, toward online and engagements and transactions. While there are some remarkable feats to be enjoyed and celebrated by a lot of companies, there are also a number of successes that are being enjoyed by criminals who are also taking advantage and exploiting certain vulnerabilities that come with the new way of doing business”, he noted.

“Undoubtedly, one of the biggest winners of COVID-19’s arrival is video conferencing. Before the arrival of COVID-19, we all admit that very few tech-savvy companies and individuals engaged in online meetings and video conferencing, but now, this has become the new normal”.

“Everybody seems to prefer to engage online than to have a face-to-face meeting and nobody has been a bigger winner than zoom. Zoom was able to post $328.3 million in revenue just in the first quarter alone, and this is very impressive. We also take a look at streaming companies. Most of us have Netflix accounts. Before COVID, I didn’t see the importance of it but during this lockdown, it came in very handy, so, we all subscribed to Netflix and Netflix has been a big winner with the arrival of COVD-19”.

“They were able to add up to 16 million subscribers in the first quarter only. This is double of the predicted subscriptions that they themselves predicted in January”, Mr Ankomah noted.

“We also have online retail companies. I suspect the likes of Jumia and other local companies in Ghana have also benefited a lot from the arrival of COVID-19 but, unfortunately, we don’t have any records or data to support this, so, we have to focus on the international front. The likes of Amazon grew by up to 25 per cent just within the arrival of COVID-19,” he said.

He added: “But when we come down to Ghana, a report indicates that MTN saw an uptick in data subscription by 5.5% and also grew MoMo subscribers by 6.9 per cent, which was 15.5 million subscribers by MTN”.

These successes have, however, come with some collateral damage – an uptick in cybercrime.

“Let us look at the successes being chalked by the criminals taking advantage of the new way of doing business: Before the arrival of COVID-19, the FBI was recording an average of 100 reports on a daily basis from the internet portals. Fast-forward to COVID-19 times, that figure has quadrupled to 4,000 on a daily basis. That shows that cyber activities have increased tremendously”.

“Some are affected by a ransomware which encrypted their files and crippled their data services for weeks. The hackers requested a $6 million ransom but they finally settled for $2.2 million. So, you just imagine having to pay that money to have access to your own data. That is what happened”, Mr Ankomah narrated.

He said: “Another group of hackers compromised a mail server of a Norwegian investment company for several months. What they did was to monitor email communications with clients, gathered information, encrypted accounts to impersonate one of their staff and they were able to authorise and made payment worth $10 million, which was intended for a microfinance in Cambodia”.

“Even though these examples are international examples, since we do not have any data on Ghana, it doesn’t mean that when it comes to Ghana, this threat is far from us”, he warned.

“We do have a number of incidents recorded in Ghana but unfortunately, we don’t have accurate data to support that, but I know of one that I can give an example of: During the COVID-19 times, most banks extended the withdrawal limits for their clients via the ATMs to discourage them from entering the banking halls. So, over the weekend, hackers noticed this in Ghana and were able to install cloning devices on off-site ATMs and they were able to clone quite a number of ATM cards and withdrew a lot of money over one weekend only. A number of banks were affected, though we haven’t gotten official records on them. So, all these go to prove that the threats are not just internationally-based but also they are right here at home.”