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Banks Worry Russia Will Target SWIFT System

Financial executives are expressing fears of Russian cyber attacks on SWIFT after several of the country’s biggest banks were removed from the payments messaging system.

As The Financial Times reported Tuesday (March 15), a number of senior executives overseeing cyber security at major banks say the threats to SWIFT, which allows thousands of banks to send trillions in international payments each day, will grow if more Russian lenders are barred from the system.

Russia’s second-largest bank, VTB, is among the financial institutions removed from SWIFT earlier this month as part of the sanctions against Moscow in retaliation for the invasion of Ukraine. So far, Sberbank — the country’ largest bank — and Gazprombank have been allowed to stay on SWIFT, as they handle much of the payments for Russia’s gas and oil exports.

Learn more: EU Mulls Blocking Russian Banks From SWIFT, but Big Name FIs Are Missing

The FT report said executives worry SWIFT will become a more attractive target than individual banks, as it serves so much of the worldwide financial system.

“There are lots of concerns about Swift,” a financial regulator that supervises some of the banks said. “Banks seem to be comfortable with their own cyber security levels, but a hit to Swift would be very detrimental to the whole banking system.”

The extent of Russia’s cyber attacks so far has been limited to government and infrastructure inside Ukraine. Banks, however, are still on alert.

“During warfare, it’s the most effective place to hit — it’s the nucleus of the global banking system, the node that connects everything,” said one senior bank executive.

See also: Banks: Russia Steps up Cyberwar Against Financial System

Earlier this month, PYMNTS reported that a number of major American banks — J.P. Morgan, Citigroup, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs — had seen an increased level of cyber attacks in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Executives at these banks said that while they’ve spent billions each year to stave off these attacks, the recent wave of is different: subtle-yet-intensified attacks on banks’ technological infrastructure that commenced after the sanctions were announced.

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