Bank robbers move to much more lucrative cybercrimes

British security agencies brought in to combat internet crime

The Bank of England has produced a plan that will see intelligence about cybercrime discovered by British security agencies such as GCHQ in Cheltenham (above), being shared with institutions. Photograph: PA

The Bank of England has produced a plan that will see intelligence about cybercrime discovered by British security agencies such as GCHQ in Cheltenham (above), being shared with institutions. Photograph: PA

 

Five masked men entered the Royal Bank of Scotland branch in Tollcross in Edinburgh last month, brandishing weapons as they threatened staff and demanded money.

The noon raid, which lasted for no more than a couple of minutes, was “a frightening and intimidating experience” for bank officials, said Det Insp Stuart Harkness.

A few weeks later, a lone raider fled from another RBS branch in the city “with bundles of cash spilling from his arms” after he had forgotten to bring a bag to carry away his ill-gotten gains. The man, who terrified officials and the lone customer in the branch and with a handgun, still managed to get away with £10,000 (€12,600), but it was marked with a red security dye.

Once upon a time, such ordeals were commonplace: 847 bank branches were raided in 1992 across Britain, according to figures published by the British Bankers’ Association.

Last year, however, there were just 89 bank robberies in Britain – and not a single one in Scotland – compared to the record number of 80 that took place there in 1992.

Bank branches are less attractive today to criminals because less cash is held in them than before, while close-circuit television images are far superior in quality to the grainy images of old. Security screens can now rise in less than a second.

Special fog

Anthony Browne

“Banks are working hard to confine armed robberies to the world of TV dramas,” Browne says. “Being caught up in a bank job is a terrifying ordeal for staff and customers that can scar lives for decades.”

The British experience is replicated elsewhere. The numbers of bank robberies in the United States, Canada and continental Europe has also plummeted over the last two decades.

Economists have studied the trends, believing that the cost-benefit analysis now shows that too little money will be secured and too much time will be served in jail to justify the risks for most robbers.

However, less-sophisticated criminals still pose a threat.

In June, two men were jailed in Liverpool for stealing nearly £800,000 (€1.01 million) after they blew up up dozens of ATM cash machines. The gang, police told the court, used jemmies to open a gap in an ATM before they blew it apart with home-made gas bombs.

Dozens of them were later found in a lock-up used by the gang as “a quartermaster’s store”.

However, if banks and their officials are less at risk from gun-wielding criminals at the counter, they face increasing dangers from those involved in cybercrime.

This year the Bank of England produced a plan that will see intelligence by British security agencies, such as GCHQ in Cheltenham, being shared with institutions. In addition, the central bank is offering tests costing £100,000 (€126,000) that will test the vulernabilities of a bank’s computer system to hackers – a small price to pay, it would seem.

The tests will use previously discovered methods of hackers to probe banks’ defences and to show how far they could get and how much damage they could cause along the way.

Global cost

McAfee

Recent studies have shown that comprehensive dossiers of information about individuals – including their bank details and other supposedly difficult-to-trace information – are sold for just £18 (€22.70).

Warning that cybercrime – including identity theft and intellectual property espionage – is “endemic”, the cabinet office recently warned that the bill for the UK alone is now running at £27 billion (€34 billion) a year.

“Efforts to tackle it seem to be more tactical than strategic,” it warned, adding that some victims were not sure whom they should tell and believed that “little can be done” if they did.

“For cyber criminals – who may be individuals, organised criminal groups or even nation states – it is highly lucrative and the barriers to entry are low.

“The ease of access to and relative anonymity provided [by IT technology] lowers the risk of being caught while making crimes straightforward to conduct,” the cabinet office added.

In time, police officers may yet pine for the days of the bank robber who comes without a bag and leaves with dyed, useless cash fluttering in the wind.

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