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BNP Paribas bars Russia-based staff from computer systems as cyber attack fears grow

BNP Paribas bars Russia-based staff from computer systems as cyber attack fears grow

According to a source with firsthand knowledge of the situation, France’s biggest bank, BNP Paribas, has disconnected its Russia-based employees from its internal computer systems in an effort to strengthen its defenses against any future cyber assault.

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the French lender is believed to be the first major bank to remove staff in Moscow from its information technology networks. An internal memo obtained by Dailion revealed that the lender has also placed employees in other locations on high alert for cyber threats emanating from Russia.

While the move is intended to safeguard the bank from hackers who may use the local network as an entry point, it is also intended to further isolate the bank’s dwindling Russian activities from the rest of the company as a whole.

A historic wave of Western sanctions aimed at smothering President Vladimir Putin’s aggression by causing domestic economic chaos is wreaking havoc on the financial sector, while any counter-sanctions from Moscow could force lenders to terminate their relationships with one of the world’s largest energy producers.

It was in late February that BNPP sounded the alert when authorities, notably the European Central Bank, expressed concern about the danger of retaliatory hacking as part of Russia’s efforts to foster economic instability in nations that support Ukraine.

The Russian government has categorically denied that the Russian state is involved in cyberattacks on other countries.

BNPP employs less than 500 individuals in Russia, a fraction of the company’s worldwide workforce of more than 190,000 workers. The company has been steadily diminishing its presence in the country, departing retail banking in 2012 and consumer finance in 2020, respectively.

The bank’s Moscow-based employees lost access to the bank’s network last week, and it is unclear when that access would be restored, according to a source who spoke to Dailion.

One of the “least active” foreign banks in Russia, according to a BNPP representative, the bank adhered scrupulously to all international restrictions imposed by the European Union and other nations.

As Dailion reported, the bank said in a series of texts addressed to senior executives and obtained from them that cyber assaults would likely escalate in the present geopolitical environment.

‘Our cybersecurity… teams are on high alert… and are intensively monitoring our networks,’ the company said, adding that it had instructed business partners to do the same since it had given the hacking threat the “highest priority.”

VULNERABILITY

Despite the fact that the conflict has had a direct financial effect on company operations and asset prices, the warning highlights the susceptibility of huge Western banks and investment organizations in general.

Customers may be unable to access their accounts and other services as a consequence of cyber assaults, which may also impair a bank’s capacity to do business.

On Wednesday, BNPP disclosed a 3 billion euro ($3.29 billion) exposure to Russia and Ukraine, while Italy’s Unicredit (CRDI.MI) estimated that a complete write-off of its Russian business would cost around 7.4 billion euros (about $7.4 billion).

Since Russia launched its attack on Ukraine, which Moscow refers to as a “special military operation” to disarm and depose leaders it considers to be “neo-Nazis,” several financial institutions, including Citigroup (C.N), the Lloyds Banking Group in the United Kingdom, and the AIB Group in Ireland, have raised concerns about the possibility of cyber attacks.

Meanwhile, the Bank of England is expanding its Cyber Security Division, with a number of new positions advertised on its website in recent days, including an Emerging Threat Specialist and numerous Senior Cyber Defence Analyst positions.

Following the commencement of Russia’s military intervention in Syria earlier this month, the CEO of Swiss stock market operator SIX claimed on Wednesday that there has been an uptick in computer attempts.

While Ukraine’s cyber watchdog agency has stated that Ukrainian websites have been subjected to non-stop attacks by Russian hackers since the invasion, the Meta Platforms (FB.O) said it had taken down a network of fake accounts, groups, and pages across Facebook and Instagram that were operated from Russia and Ukraine and targeted people in the country.

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