Several months ago, there began an extensive and exhausting assault levied against American banks. These denial of service attacks proved frustrating and overwhelming not only for banks, but for consumers who were often greeted with a message stating they would be unable to access their credit card, checking, mortgage and other accounts due to another attack.
It’s been ongoing for seven months and the attacks continue. While it does appear there’s not happening as often as they were before this past October, the fact that authorities haven’t been able to even identify the hackers shows an alarming inability to handle security breaches. For this – and other – reasons, it’s time for Congress to pass new cyber security legislation. The wheels are in motion, the question is, will it result in real change?
Rep. Mike Rogers, (R-Mich.), told NBC News on Wednesday that in the past six weeks, there have been 15 banks – including the nation’s biggest – that were knocked offline. And the total number of hours those banks were in that inaccessible state is 249 hours – and they were all due to “denial of service” cyber attacks.
You may recall hearing of a group Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters. This hacker group is believed to be behind the attacks, but there’s not much else known about them and what is known isn’t as a result of finding them, but rather, the information the hackers themselves released. A few of the banks that were successfully targeted include Wells Fargo, Bank of America, PNC and American Express (the credit card company was hit this week). At first, there were those who tried to link the attacks to Iran, but the group insisted it was responding only in retaliation for the YouTube video that mocked the Prophet Muhammad. Using its preferred method of communication, an online message board, the group said it would continue the attacks until all copies of the video were removed from the website.
Despite those who are sure Iran is behind the attacks, there’s simply no way of knowing for sure. The FBI and other law enforcement bodies are working “aggressively to identify the responsible parties”, according to Rep Adam Schiff (D-Calif). He also said
Our computer networks are the subject of daily assault by hostile hackers, both state sponsored and independent…Stories like this reinforce the need to focus on securing our networks from attack so that the next leak or attack isn’t far worse.
Schiff is working alongside others to push the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, H.R.624, into play. He also said the government is trying to form a channel of communication that will allow it and banks to pass information and share legislation efforts in order to protect the U.S. and its respective computer networks. That time has long since arrived, though, with little coming out of government camps on what it’s doing to ensure the attacks are minimized.
Doug Johnson, who is the American Bankers Association’s vice president of risk management policy, said that the attacks began in October and since then, they have only intensified. He also said there’s no reason to believe those attacks will suddenly stop, but that banks, credit unions and credit card companies continue to not only fend off the attacks, but find solutions that will prevent them from happening at all.
Everyone who’s playing a role in minimizing the problems say that the attacks aren’t being done top gather information on consumers, but rather, cause disruptions and inconveniences. John said they are “purely disruptions of our internet banking platforms… So essentially, what you have are people knocking at the door and not getting in.”
As mentioned, American Express has been hit this week, but it’s not the only one. Wells Fargo’s online banking site was also reporting problems on Tuesday. They’re also being described as denial of service attacks as the likely the reason behind the slowdowns for customers trying to access the site.
In a presser on Tuesday, a spokesperson said
Today we’ve seen an unusually high volume of website traffic which we believe is a denial of service attack,
and goes on to say that most customers aren’t being impacted and that there are no efforts being made to steal customer information. The question many are wondering is how long before the attacks are seeking to gather information such as account holders’ names, credit card and checking account numbers and other sensitive information. Finally, the spokesperson encouraged customers who were having difficulties logging into their online accounts to continue trying and that the disruptions are intermittent.
There are also worries, especially since Amex has been targeted and in the past, even the stock market network, that these attacks will spread. That’s another big question mark – what’s next? The fact that there are so many theories being floated as to who’s behind the attacks is painful proof that we don’t know much more than what we knew seven months ago. Even if Congress passes legislation, there remains the challenge of getting to the bottom of the attacks and finally identifying those responsible.
Also last fall, at least one financial services industry group, the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center, opted to issue its own alert about the attacks to members, raising the threat level from “elevated” to high,” because of “credible intelligence” about the potential for such attacks. Again, raising the threat level is fine, but it’s not going to do anything that would result in ceasing the attacks. Customers are as vulnerable now as they were before.
Finally, it’s important to note that the video was eventually taken down. The group acknowledged it and said that it would cease the attacks “for now”. It promised bigger and more devastating attacks beginning this spring. It’s almost as though banks are at the mercy of a group of hackers with no faces and no hint as to what to expect in the future. For now, the banks remain vulnerable and very much the target of whoever is behind the attacks.
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