Share This Page

Cyber attack takes down PNC website for second day

| 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.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.