LONDON—The British Hi-Tech Crime Unit has foiled what would have been one of the biggest computer crimes in history, where thieves attempted to transfer $420 million from a London branch of Japanese bank Sumitomo Mitsui.
The thieves are believed to have hacked into the banks computer systems using information gathered from keylogger programs, which allowed them access to sensitive passwords and other account information. At present, it is not clear how the keyloggers were installed.
Police have been investigating the case since last October, when bank security discovered that some computer systems had been compromised, and the National Hi-Tech Crimes Unit—a specialized police body that aims to combat computer crime—was called in.
An Israeli man, Yeron Bolondi, was arrested in connection with the case in Israel after an attempt was made to transfer $29 million into an account there. Bolondi appeared in a Tel Aviv district court Thursday charged with attempted money laundering and deception, and was remanded in custody for at least a week. It is understood that Israeli police have been working closely with the British over the case.
According to Takashi Morita, head of communications at Sumitomo Mitsui in Japan, the bank did not suffer any financial loss because of the raid, but Morita declined to comment any further as “the case is still being investigated.”
If the raid had succeeded, it would have been the biggest bank theft in British history, easily eclipsing the previous record of $50 million stolen from Northern Irelands Northern Bank last December—a raid believed by police to have been conducted by the IRA.
The foiling of the raid is the latest in a string of successes for the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit, a group created in 2001 and staffed by police officers and computer experts from the armed forces, and Customs. A recent initiative, code-named Operation Blossom, targeted a network of computer software pirates and led to the arrests of eight people in Britain.