NSA protects banks against cyber-attacks


The US National Security Agency (NSA) has started protecting Wall Street banks against cyber-attacks by foreign hackers, above all through electronic spying overseas. This is the result of increased attempts by US banks and financial firms to cooperate with US military and private defence contractors to counter cyber-attacks. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recently warned of hackers being able to exploit the weaknesses in banks’ networks to cause chaos on global markets. Different scenarios for the consequences of cyber-attacks include the disabling of trading systems for stocks, bonds and currencies as well as flash crashes, large transfers of funds or the shut-down of all automated teller machines.


NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander, speaking about the agency’s support for banks, mentioned the possibility of expanding a pilot programme on information-sharing about malicious software with private defence contractors to the financial sector. The cooperation between the latter and the NSA represents a milestone in the agency’s efforts to expand its services to the private sector. Gen. Alexander identified continued “tremendous vulnerabilities” within the private sector, yet he noted progress in the level of protection of big companies such as Google, Lockheed Martin or NASDAQ after they had fallen victim to cyber-attacks. The NSA started cooperation with NASDAQ after malicious software attacks on Wall Street last year. “We know adversaries have full unfettered access to certain networks,” Shawn Henry, executive assistant director of the FBI, said without identifying the adversaries. “Once there, they have the ability to destroy data. We see that as a credible threat to all sectors, but specifically the financial services sector.”


The SDA recently launched a cyber-security initiative, featuring EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström in an evening debate on November 9th 2011.