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Cyber attack takes down PNC website for second day

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Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012, 10:42 a.m.
 

A cyberattack that one expert called the biggest of its kind to hit the United States crippled PNC Financial Services Group's website on Thursday.

For the second consecutive day, the Pittsburgh-based bank's website fell victim to a denial-of-service attack, in which a person or group directs a flood of traffic to a website, overwhelming the system and preventing customers from gaining access.

“The volumes have been unprecedented,” said Dmitri Alperovitch, a co-founder of Internet security firm CrowdStrike, based in Irvine, Calif.

In similar attacks on the websites of major U.S. banks starting last week, CrowdStrike tracked traffic volumes 10 to 20 times higher than in typical denial-of-service attacks, Alperovitch said.

Although the sophistication of the attacks is “not particularly high,” he said, “it takes tremendous resources to drive up that kind of traffic.”

Such an attack would not endanger the financial or personal data of bank customers, experts said.

PNC acknowledged the attacks on Twitter and asked for patience from customers.

“Work on PNC.com online/mobile access continues. Your information is secure, and all other banking systems are working properly,” the company said.

PNC spokesman Fred Solomon said the bank “reports unusual activity to its regulators and law enforcement.”

The Department of Homeland Security declined to comment on whether it was investigating. Justice Department and FBI officials could not be reached.

A group calling itself the Cyber Fighters of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam claimed responsibility for the attacks on an Internet message board. It said the attacks, which also hit Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo & Co., U.S. Bancorp and other large banks, were in retribution for a U.S.-made video mocking the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Some have cited the video as a reason for anti-U.S. protests in the Middle East in recent weeks.

But Alperovitch said CrowdStrike has watched the group's denial-of-service attacks since the beginning of the year and termed its reprisal claims “clearly false.”

Izz ad-Din al-Qassam is the name of the military arm of the Palestinian political organization Hamas, but Alperovitch said there's no evidence of Hamas involvement in the cyber attacks.

Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an independent, said last week he believed the attacks came from Iran. Alperovitch said CrowdStrike's investigation could not establish a link to Iran.

On Wednesday, PNC and U.S. Bancorp were hit by the attacks. An expert from the CERT program at Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute called such attacks common but said their volume was unprecedented.

Martin Lindner, principal engineer at CERT, which researches Internet security for the government, said customers should not fear their information would be at risk.

“There are (denial-of-service) attacks going on all the time, all around the world,” Lindner said. “Some small, some big, some are public, and many go basically unnoticed.”

Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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