Hackers’ Attack Cracked 10 Financial Firms in Major Assault

The huge cyberattack on JPMorgan Chase that touched more than 83 million households and businesses was one of the most serious computer intrusions into an American corporation. But it could have been much worse.

Questions over who the hackers are and the approach of their attack concern government and industry officials. Also troubling is that about nine other financial institutions — a number that has not been previously reported — were also infiltrated by the same group of overseas hackers, according to people briefed on the matter. The hackers are thought to be operating from Russia and appear to have at least loose connections with officials of the Russian government, the people briefed on the matter said.

It is unclear whether the other intrusions, at banks and brokerage firms, were as deep as the one that JPMorgan disclosed on Thursday. The identities of the other institutions could not be immediately learned.

The breadth of the attacks — and the lack of clarity about whether it was an effort to steal from accounts or to demonstrate that the hackers could penetrate even the best-protected American financial institutions — has left Washington intelligence officials and policy makers far more concerned than they have let on publicly. Some American officials speculate that the breach was intended to send a message to Wall Street and the United States about the vulnerability of the digital network of one of the world’s most important banking institutions.

“It could be in retaliation for the sanctions” placed on Russia, one senior official briefed on the intelligence said. “But it could be mixed motives — to steal if they can, or to sell whatever information they could glean.”

The JPMorgan hackers burrowed into the digital network of the bank and went down a path that gave them access to information about the names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses of account holders. They never made it into where the more critical financial information and personal information are stored.

The bank’s security team, which first discovered the attack in late July, managed to block the hackers before they could compromise the most sensitive information about tens of millions of JPMorgan customers, said several security experts and others briefed on the matter. The attack was not completely halted until the middle of August and it was only in recent days that the bank began to tally its full extent.

American officials say they have been working with JPMorgan since the intrusion was detected, chiefly through the Treasury, the Secret Service and intelligence agencies that seek to find the source of the attacks. But that is slow work and one official cautioned against leaping to conclusions about the identities or the motives of the attackers.

“We’ve been wrong before,” he said.

JPMorgan, the nation’s largest bank, has begun contacting customers and making clear that no money was taken from any accounts. There has been no evidence of any fraudulent use of customer information. Most of the household accounts belong to United States residents. The hackers ended up with the addresses, email addresses and phone numbers of everyone who logged into JPMorgan’s websites and mobile applications in the recent past.

Still, the recent attacks on the financial firms raise the possibility that the banks may not be up to the job of defending themselves. The attacks will also stoke questions about regulations governing when companies must inform regulators and their customers about a breach.

“It was a huge surprise that they were able to compromise a huge bank like JPMorgan,” said Al Pascual, a security analyst with Javelin Strategy and Research. “It scared the pants off many people.”

Several financial regulators have warned that a coordinated attack on the banking system could set off another financial crisis.

But much remains unanswered about the intrusion, including just who the hackers are, which other financial institutions were hit and why the hackers went down a path inside JPMorgan’s computer system that contained troves of customer information, but not financial data.

The intrusion also highlights a possible gap in United States regulations. Banks are not required to report data breaches and online intrusions unless the incident is deemed to have resulted in a financial loss to customers. Breach notification laws differ by state, but most laws require only that companies disclose a breach if customer names were stolen in conjunction with other information like a credit card, Social Security number or driver’s license number.

In some states, companies can wait up to a month to inform customers of a breach. Other state laws are more vague.

In California, for example, banks, companies and large organizations must inform the state attorney general’s office and consumers about a breach without unreasonable delay — a rule that some companies interpret liberally, officials say. This year, Kamala Harris, the California attorney general, sued the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, saying that it took more than a year for the foundation to disclose to some employees that their personal information may have been compromised.

Full article: Hackers’ Attack Cracked 10 Financial Firms in Major Assault (NY Times)

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