The war on terabytes – From (Dec. 31, 2011)

By Kevin Freeman
December 31, 2011Dec 31, 2011

Policymakers worry about attacks on America's financial system

THE financial industry has done such a good job of bringing itself to its knees over the past four years that it is easy to overlook the threats it faces from outside. High among them is electronic attack. In 2010 Symantec, a cybersecurity firm, estimated that three-quarters of all "phishing" attacks, in which people are deceived into surrendering private details such as account numbers, are aimed at the finance sector. Bob Greifeld, the boss of NASDAQ, has described his bourse as being under "literally constant attack".

Many of these assaults are carried out by hackers bent on mischief. Some are the work of organised criminal groups in pursuit of loot. But plenty of people fret that some attackers are aiming to cause more serious damage.

Leon Panetta, America's defence secretary, has suggested that a cyberattack on financial markets, the power grid and government systems could be "the next Pearl Harbour". In a move that received surprisingly little attention, Barack Obama signed an unprecedented executive order in July declaring the infiltration of financial and commercial markets by transnational criminal groups to be a national emergency. It also pointed to "evidence of growing ties between [these groups] and terrorists". In a sign that Congress, too, is twitchy, its latest appropriations bill calls for a report into the risks posed by financial terrorism.