SEC sues Wells Fargo over MS17 exploit

Wells Fargo’s MS17 financial exploitation flaw, which allowed attackers to steal $12 billion from thousands of customers, has been used to extort more than $600 million in settlements from some of the world’s biggest banks, including Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup. 

The new allegations in the SEC suit, filed Thursday in federal court in Delaware, include charges that Wells Fargo violated MS17’s code of conduct in allowing its MS17 clients to make transactions on its debit cards without its knowledge.

The SEC said the banks did not inform customers about the vulnerability until September, and that Wells had failed to notify customers about it until October.

Wells Fargo agreed to pay $1.6 billion in fines, which it will use to compensate customers who were impacted by the breach. 

MS17 is a vulnerability in the banking system that allows attackers to gain unauthorized access to financial accounts without a user’s knowledge.

It was introduced in October 2018 and has been widely used to steal money from victims. 

“This was a serious breach of trust and the companies’ responsibility to protect its customers’ financial information,” U.S. Attorney Brian J. Mancini said in a statement.

“While the MS17 vulnerability was widely known and understood by our customers and the MS16, MS17 and MS17+ customers, Wells Fargo was careless in not informing its MS16 customers of the potential impact of their MS17 transactions on their accounts.

Wells failed to adequately inform its MS15 and MS15+ customers about this risk and did not provide a method for the customers to verify their MS16 accounts had been compromised.”

Wells Fargo said in its statement that it has adopted a comprehensive strategy to mitigate this risk. 

In its suit, Wells said the breach occurred after MS17 customers started using the bank’s debit cards on MS17-compliant debit cards that included the company’s own name and logo.

Wells did not notify its MS14, MS15, MS16 and MS16+ customers of this vulnerability until October, and did so in a manner that was “misleading,” Wells said.

Wells also said it has removed its MS13, MS14 and MS14+ customers from its MS18 and MS19 debit cards, as well as removed all of the MS15 debit cards from its bank’s customer platform.

Wells said it is investigating the breach and will cooperate fully with the SEC investigation.

Wells’ other pending lawsuit, filed in March in Delaware federal court, accuses Wells Fargo of violating MS17 by not providing the MS14 bank’s customers with an option to verify whether their accounts were compromised. 

On Monday, Wells also agreed to a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission, agreeing to pay a $10.7 million fine. 

A spokeswoman for Wells Fargo declined to comment on the SEC complaint. Reuters

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