NBI collars Nigerians suspected in P167-M UCPB cyberheist in Sucat condo raids
MANILA, Philippines – Operatives from the National Bureau of Investigation have arrested several Nigerian nationals suspected of being behind the P167-million cyber heist on the United Coconut Planters Bank perpetrated during the June 12 Independence Day long weekend.
The Inquirer learned that the raid was made by government law enforcement agents on Tuesday morning on a condominium unit in Muntinlupa City after several days of sleuthing at the behest of the highest authorities of the Department of Finance which oversees the operations of the government-controlled bank.
According to ranking official sources, the NBI raided two condominium units at the Solano Hills residential development in Sucat, Muntinlupa City after obtaining search warrants from the local courts.
Arrested during the raid were four Nigerians and one Filipina suspect. The raiding team also confiscated several digital devices as well as falsified documents.
A preliminary report from the NBI quoted the Filipina suspect as saying that the group “started withdrawing from banks sometime June of 2020” — a timeframe that coincides with the audacious hack on UCPB where computer malware allowed cyber thieves to circumvent bank controls and withdraw millions from various automated teller machines and online bank transfers over a three day period.
The report said, however, that the raiding team did not recover any cash. The NBI is currently in the process of performing forensics examinations on the recovered digital devices, according to the source.
The case is being handled by the NBI’s Cybercrime Division which is expected to file charges against the suspects soon.
An official familiar with the probe told the Inquirer that no less than Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra had confirmed that the arrested Nigerians were the same ones involved in the UCPB heist.
The same source said the arrest of the suspects before they could flee the country was made possible by the speedy work of the NBI, after no less than Sec. Guevarra committed the agency’s best personnel to the probe at the behest of Finance Sec. Carlos Dominguez III.
The seeds of the heist were planted as early as February of this year when UCPB upgraded its two-decade-old information technology system from another service provider to one offered by Microsoft.
The bank initially adopted the Microsoft service but excluded the security features until it was convinced recently by the US-based firm to upgrade this as well.
After the heist, it was found that hackers used this gap to insert malware into UCPB’s computer systems using an email attachment.
The installed malware allowed the hackers to manipulate UCPB’s system and lift ATM withdrawal limits from P20,000 a day to P9,999,999 — far in excess of the P4 million that a single cash machine can hold. [ac]
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