Hackers Release Swiss Bank Data Over $12K Unpaid Ransom

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A hacking group leaked identifying details about 30,000 clients of a small Swiss bank, after Banque Cantonale de Geneve declined the group’s request to pay a ransom.

The hackers’ asking price for continued privacy: Ten. thousand. euros.

The hack and its seemingly small-scale demand -- $12,000 at current exchange rates -- speak to the prevalence and ease of a rapidly growing extortion industry that deals in stolen or hijacked data.

At around 6 p.m. central European time, the hacking group, which calls itself Rex Mundi, offered a link that it said contained purloined e-mails with clients’ names, phone numbers and account numbers, as well as their e-mails with the bank. The group said it will post the data tomorrow on its website.

In a statement on its web site, Banque Cantonale de Geneve confirmed the client details had been released but said the information didn’t represent a financial risk for clients or the bank. It said it is conducting deeper analysis with authorities and that additional security measures put in place earlier this week have been effective.

Earlier in the day, Banque Cantonale de Geneve said it “stands with its decision” to refuse the ransom demand, according to Helene De Vos Vuadens, a spokeswoman for the bank.

Little Doubt

That left little doubt that the information would be released, according to Chase Cunningham, a security analyst at FireHost, a security company based in Richardson, Texas.

“One thing you can say about these guys is that you have to take them very seriously,” said Cunningham. “If you don’t pay up they are going to try to make you suffer.”

The Rex Mundi hackers are a well-organized part of a broader legion of online hijackers whose tools include ransomware, a virus that locks up home computers and requires a payment from victims to release their data. In that case, home-computer owners can make the payments via credit card to the hackers, who often operate out of Eastern Europe or Russia, according to security experts.

Rex Mundi has perfected a similar small-bore shakedown focusing on companies, Cunningham said. They scan for vulnerabilities in company networks, quickly extract data, ransom it for small amounts and then move on.

Leaked E-Mails

Earlier this week, the hackers released a statement that included two stolen e-mails to verify they had the data.

“If we do not get paid in the meantime, we will post the Banque Cantonale de Geneve #leak tonight on our website,” Rex Mundi said on Twitter earlier today. “We would like to wish a merry tax audit to all the non-Swiss account holders listed in the BCGE files.”

A later tweet from the account added: “It is easier to get 10 companies to pay 10K than to get 1 company to pay 100K.”

Client information from Swiss banks has, in the past, been an object of particular scrutiny. Customer data from HSBC Holdings Plc’s Swiss unit provided to French authorities in 2008 led to a probe against the bank. The data was obtained by Herve Falciani, a software technician.

BCGE is taking part in a U.S. program that allows Swiss banks to voluntarily disclose information on how they helped clients hide money from the Internal Revenue Service. In exchange, they may receive non-prosecution deals in relation to allegations that they fostered tax-evasion through cross-border accounts held by U.S. clients.

Client Contacts

The bank, which is partly owned by the canton of Geneva, said in statements that all affected clients were being contacted by their advisers.

The Rex Mundi hacking group has been around for at least two years, Cunningham said, and includes hackers from Germany, Austria, France and possibly the U.S. He says the hacker group was formed from more militant elements of prevalent hacktivist groups, which have been hurt by arrests of top leaders over the last three years.

“They’d much rather have 50 companies pay them $25,000 than one company pay them $5 million,” Cunningham said. “They definitely go for low-hanging fruit.”

Other Rex Mundi victims have included Domino’s Pizza Inc., according to the group’s website.

“There was an incident that was isolated to independent franchises in France and Belgium that took place in June,” Tim McIntyre, vice president of communications for Domino’s, said by telephone. The hackers accessed systems that were about to be updated, he said, which contained names and addresses but no credit card or financial information. The franchisees declined to pay and the systems were updated, he added.

“It turned out to be much ado about nothing,” he said.

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