The Public Accounts Committee is set to investigate cyber fraud in public sector organisations after €1 million was diverted from Trinity College in an e-mail hacking incident.

The Comptroller and Auditor General, the State's spending watchdog, has also written to public sector organisations warning them about the threat of cyber fraud.

A police investigation into the incident at Trinity  is underway in Ireland, the UK and Germany.

The chair of the committee, Seán Fleming said it has received a letter from the provost of Trinity College Dublin, Patrick Prendergast, in recent days providing information about cyber fraud at the Trinty Foundation. 

Citing the letter Mr Fleming said, "In early 2017, unauthorised access by a third party to the email account of an employee of Trinity foundation resulted in the authorisation of fraudulent payments to individuals unconnected to Trinity College or the Trinity Foundation.

"The original amount defrauded of €217,000 has since been recovered. The remainder is subject to an ongoing investigation inside and outside the State. The university is also pursuing the matter with its insurers." 

He added, "At this stage the loss inlcuding the cost of investigation and other ancillary costs amounts to €974,781."

He said the role of processing payments has been taken from the Trinity Foundation and transferred to Trinity College's financial services division. 

Mr Fleming noted that the loss of public money through cyber fraud is now coming before the committee more and more often. He recalled a similar incident involving Meath County Council last year.

The Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy said that Trinity College needs to look at what specific control weaknesses allowed the incident to occur.

On a wider scale he suggested that the PAC writes to public sector organisations asking them to be aware of the risks and how to mitigate against any risk.

He added: "One of the things that was happening was public sector organisations were being contacted with what looked like official headed note paper saying 'we are changing our bank account. Here's our new bank account.'  And that was being processed without an additional check being done and that was how a fraud has occured in a number of situations."

A Garda investigation is underway into the Trinity incident but the State spending watchdog said the people involved in this fraud are from outside the jurisdiction. 

He said that in a number of situations banks have noted large round some transfers that look a bit out of pattern. He indicated that in the Trinity case, a Scottish bank identified some odd movements of money.

Committee chair Seán Fleming suggested all public bodies that come under the PAC's remit should be asked what measures they have in place to prevent cyber fraud and asking them if they have had any major incidents. 

Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane suggested the PAC write to Trinity for a breakdown of the €974,781 cost which includes the cost of an internal investigation within the college. 

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy acknowleged there is a Garda investigation into this incident. She suggested that the Higher Education Authority should ensure systems are put in place to ensure that similar attacks do not happen.She pointed out that the Trinity Foundation incident occured after an attack on one person.

On the Trinity Foundation incident, Mr McCarthy explained that the money lost represents a loss to the college. He explained, "It was funds that were in the foundation but the college was obliged to make good the foundation." Therefore the cost of the loss was incurred by the college.