FBI probes 'cyber attacks' on US firms
THE United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said it is investigating media reports that several US financial firms have been victims of recent cyber attacks.
"We are working with the United States Secret Service to determine the scope of recently reported cyber attacks against several American financial institutions," FBI spokesman Joshua Campbell said in a statement late on Wednesday, Reuters reported.
He did not name any firms or give further details. A Secret Service spokesman could not be reached for comment.
But a Bloomberg report citing two people familiar with the probe said Russian hackers attacked the US financial system in the middle of this month, infiltrating and stealing data from JPMorgan Chase and at least one other bank.
The New York Times said at least three other US banks had been infiltrated in a string of coordinated attacks this month, citing four people familiar with the investigation.
The attack resulted in the loss of gigabytes of sensitive data, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the probe is still preliminary.
The stolen data included current and savings account information.
The authorities are investigating whether recent infiltrations of major European banks using a similar vulnerability are also linked to the attack, one of the sources said.
In one case, the hackers used a software flaw known as a zero-day vulnerability in one of the banks' websites.
They then ploughed through layers of elaborate security to steal the data, a feat security experts said appeared far beyond the capability of ordinary criminal hackers.
The incidents occurred at a low point in relations between Russia and the West. Russian troops continue to mass on the Ukrainian border as the West tightens sanctions aimed at crippling Russian companies, including some of the country's most important banks.
The sophistication of the attack and technical indicators extracted from the banks' computers provide some evidence of a government link.
Still, the trail is muddy enough that investigators are considering the possibility that it was cyber criminals from Russia or elsewhere in East Europe.
Other federal agencies, including the National Security Agency, are now aiding the investigation, a third person familiar with the probe said.
"The way the Russians do it, to the extent we can see into the process, is they encourage certain targets," said James Lewis, director of the Strategic Technologies program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
"The Russians typically keep open the options to do something more, and the question now is what would trigger that and what would our response be."
J. Peter Donald, an FBI spokesman in New York, declined to comment.
When contacted, JPMorgan spokesman Patricia Wexler said that "companies of our size, unfortunately, experience cyber attacks nearly every day".
"We have multiple layers of defence to counteract any threats and constantly monitor fraud levels."