Cyberattack on Banco Pichincha shuts down some banking services across the country

Oct 11, 2021 | 11 comments

Despite announcing that most of its electronic system were up and running again following a major cyberattack, many of Banco Pichincha’s ATM machines as well as other online services remained inaccessible Monday afternoon. Because Pichincha provides services to dozens of financial institutions in Ecuador, customers of other banks and cooperatives were also unable to conduct some transactions.

Customers wait outside a Banco Pichincha office in Quito Monday morning.

In its announcement, Pichincha admitted that it had suffered an “extensive cybersecurity incident” that forced the bank to shut down online services on Friday. “We have taken immediate action such as isolating potentially affected systems from the rest of our network and having cybersecurity experts assist in the investigation and repairs,” the bank said on its Twitter account.

Among those affected by the shutdown were some tourists and foreign residents who were unable to make ATM withdrawals from bank accounts in North America and Europe. The problem affected ATMs at Bancos Guayaquil, Austro and Internacional, as well as Pichincha.

Pichincha bank officers did not respond to media calls Sunday and Monday and provided no details about the cyberattack and whether individual accounts and client data was compromised. In February, the bank suffered another cyberattack that resulted in a largescale leak of personal data. The bank said later that a “weak point” in cybersecurity had been identified and repaired and that all systems were secure.

Diego Miguel, a cybersecurity consultant in Quito, said that Ecuadorian banks are known to hackers for having lax security. “This has been the situation for years and little has been done to strengthen the system,” he said. “I’m not surprised by this weekend’s problems and am afraid it could take days to fully restore the system.”

He said international banks are also concerned about the poor security. “Some foreign banks temporarily cut links to transactions until they know the system is secure again. This is the problem with ATM access to foreign accounts in some cases.”

In Cuenca, a Canadian woman waited outside Banco Guayaquil on Calle Sucre Monday morning after she was unable to withdraw money from the bank’s ATM. “I need to find out what’s going on and get some cash if I can,” she told a radio station reporter. “I’m down to my last $20 and I fly out of Quito to New York tonight.”

A few minutes later, the reporter spotted the woman up the street at Banco Austro, where she was able to take money from an ATM. “Fortunately, I found a machine that so  I can finally relax.”

Banco Pichincha is Ecuador’s largest bank, holding a 26 percent market share in financial holdings and transactions.

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