Major U.S. bank websites have been offline a total of 249 hours in the past six weeks, perhaps the clearest indication yet that American companies are prime targets in an unrelenting, global cyber conflict. The heavier-than-usual outages are the result of a remarkable, sustained attack that began seven months ago and repeatedly knocks banks offline for hours at a time, frustrating consumers and bank security professionals alike.
"Literally, these banks are just in war rooms, sitting at controls trying to stop (the attacks)," said Avivah Litan, a bank security analyst with Gartner Group, a consulting firm. "The frightening thing is (the attackers) are not using as much resources as they have on call. The attacks could be bigger."
The denial of service reports were hardly noteworthy at first, hidden in the wake of news that U.S. embassies were under siege during the week of September 11, 2012. But in short order, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, PNC and a number of other banks suffered hours-long website outages. A group calling itself Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters released an anonymous statement saying it was attacking banks in sympathy with real-world protestors who were reacting to an anti-Islam film that had been posted online.
Seven months later, the group is still taunting the U.S. financial system, with notice almost daily from another bank that had to apologize for letting down its customers. American Express and Wells Fargo issued statements last week saying they suffered outages. Even with advance notice, the biggest financial institutions in the world can't seem to stop them.
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