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Special Report: How the New York Fed fumbled over the Bangladesh Bank heist

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Jupiter. That single word, by a stroke of luck, helped stop the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from paying nearly $1 billion to the cyber-criminals behind a notorious bank heist earlier this year, according to sources familiar with the incident.

When hackers broke into the computers of Bangladesh’s central bank in February and sent fake payment orders, the Fed was tricked into paying out $101 million. But the losses could have been much higher had the name Jupiter not formed part of the address of a Philippines bank where the hackers sought to send hundreds of millions of dollars more.

By chance, Jupiter was also the name of an oil tanker and a shipping company under United States’ sanctions against Iran. That sanctions listing triggered concerns at the New York Fed and spurred it to scrutinize the fake payment orders more closely, a Reuters examination of the incident has found.

It was a “total fluke” that the New York Fed did not pay out the $951 million requested by the hackers, said a person familiar with the Fed’s handling of the matter. There is no suggestion the oil tanker or shipping company was involved in the heist.

The Reuters examination has also found that the payment orders sent by the hackers were exceptional in several ways. They were incorrectly formatted at first; they were mainly to individuals; and they were very different from the usual run of payment requests from Bangladesh Bank. Yet it was the word Jupiter that set the loudest alarm bells ringing at the New York Fed. Even then it appeared to react slowly.

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