Billion Dollar Heist Movie Review

“Billion Dollar Heist” is a well-documented story of the massive security breach that happened in 2016. The Bangladeshi Central Bank was targeted for over a year. Then, over a long weekend, a group of transactions were hacked in and money was gone overnight. It was well planned-out and devastating to the Bank and to the International finance system as a whole.


Hackers have been around since the dawn of the Internet. Bank robbers have been around much longer, and bank scams almost just as long. The ways that money gets moved around electronically has made large banks the major target of hacker groups. Just a few people working in a bank who are lax at security are all the hackers need.


Early ‘hacks’ and computer virus and Trojan worms were small scale things. They could do some damage, but for most part the effect that they had was limited. Then the hacking tools got better and more refined. The ways to infiltrate a computer system got more sophisticated. But the weak link was still the person at the keyboard.


The International banking system created a protocol named SWIFT, and this allowed for large transfers of sums from secured terminals. The hackers got smart, and they figured out ways to scope out the internal networks inside banks. They could identify which individuals had access to SWIFT terminals, and these people had targets on their backs.


In 2014, the Sony Corporation was hit by an outside hacking organization that was called the ‘Lazarus Group’. This was a total meltdown of the Sony networking system and a massive leak of critical data. The Lazarus hackers soon set their sights on the Bangladeshi Central Bank. The bank was infiltrated with some targeted e-mails that contained very sophisticated methods to get access into the main computer system.


Years before, a hack was done in an Iranian nuclear facility with a hacking tool called ‘Stuxnet. This was specialized because the hacking software was able to ‘cover its own tracks’. It was not discovered for quite a while. The hack to the Central Bank used some similar methods. It was in place for close to a year, and it was never found.


The Lazarus Group had set up a very meticulous plan. They had access to the inner workings of the Bank, including access to the SWIFT terminal. Over a long weekend in February, the hackers got into the Bank system. The sent over thirty SWIFT transactions to transfer funds. Most of the funds were transferred to dummy accounts predefined in the Philippines and Sri Lanka.


They were aided in the Philippines by a RCBC Bank branch manager. The transactions were approved, and cashed out at the Manila bank. Pre-planned groups took boxes of back notes to local casinos. Other people were paid to take the ‘dirty’ money and exchange it for chips. They gambled for days, going through many boxes of bills. When they cashed out the chips, it was untraceable ‘clean’ money. The ‘laundering’ of the heist money was a success.


The Bangladeshi Central Bank found out something bad was happening. But they attempted to contact the SWIFT authorities and the US Federal Back agents, there no response. It was a weekend, and nobody was working. When they tried to contact people at the Manila RCBC Back, they were out-of-office. It was Chinese New Year, which was a Bank Holiday.


The news of the security breach was kept under wraps, until the word got out. Going after such a large sum of money was unheard of — up to that point. Many people at the Bank lost their jobs. The only person the authorities could go after was the Manila bank manager at RCBC. That person was not, of course, the ultimate mastermind.


“Billion Dollar Heist” uses quite a few interviews with many security experts, journalists and other people with background knowledge of the hackers major Heist. These folks include Misha Glenny, Mikko Hyppönen, Eric Chien, E.J. Hilbert, Joshua Hammer, and Nicole Pelroth. Each one has some facts and opinions about the overall hacker operation. They all contribute quite a bit to the story.


There are some really well-done graphics and short animated sequences that describe the way the operation unfolded. It shows the intense level of detail planning that went into pulling off this heist. It puts a great deal of attention to how much effort something like this takes to complete is on such a large scale. There are some reports that the Lazarus Group was controlled, or funded, by North Korea.


“Billion Dollar Heist” is a scary reminder that the world of cyber-security mostly has the failures in the human links. If a hacking group can nearly bring down a Bank, and almost a country – then where would these breaches stop?


Available to view on Vudu

Billion Dollar Heist

Directed by: Daniel Gordon, Brendan Donovan, Bryn Evans
Written by: Whetham Allpress, Tom Blackwell, Brendan Donovan, Bryn Evans, Matthew Metcalf
Starring: Misha Glenny, Mikko Hyppönen, Eric Chien, E.J. Hilbert, Joshua Hammer, Nicole Pelroth
Music by: Lachlan Anderson
Cinematography by: Michael Timney
Art Direction by: Guy Treadgold
Release date: August 15, 2023
Length: 1 hour 24 minutes
MPAA rating: n/a
Genre: Documentary


Rating contributor: JMcNaughton tmc

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