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PNC aware of some website problems after hacking group warns of new cyberattack

| Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012, 11:36 a.m.

PNC Bank on Tuesday wasted no time warning customers about potential trouble accessing its website as a second round of cyberattacks appeared to be causing limited disruptions.

In a move that contrasted with its initial response to an attack in September, Pennsylvania's largest bank took to social media to warn customers they could experience difficulty with online banking.

The latest assault, which was causing intermittent online problems, started with a warning on Monday by the same computer hacking group that claimed responsibility for the September cyberattack that crippled PNC's website for two days.

“In new phase, the wideness and the number of attacks will increase explicitly; and offenders and subsequently their governmental supporters will not be able to imagine and forecast the widespread and greatness of these attacks,” the group calling itself the al Qassam Cyber Fighters Group posted to Internet message board Pastebin.

In addition to PNC, the group said it intended to hit JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, U.S. Bank and SunTrust in what are known as denial-of-service attacks, which flood a website with traffic and prevent legitimate users from gaining access.

“PNC is aware of the potential denial-of-service attack,” spokeswoman Amy Vargo said. “We are working with appropriate authorities to take precautions.”

The bank posted similar messages on its website and its Facebook and Twitter pages.

“Please be assured that PNC's website is protected by sophisticated encryption strategies that shield customer information and accounts,” the Facebook message said. “We have no information regarding timing, duration or intensity of this potential threat. Please continue to follow our page for additional updates.”

PNC downplayed the extent of the September attack even hours after its website had been virtually shut down.

Vargo said there was no connection between the bank's responses in September and Tuesday. “At this point, what we're trying to do is make customers aware” of the potential problems, she said.

If PNC customers have trouble accessing their account online, Vargo recommended they try again because problems were coming and going.

Although the September attacks caused frustration for customers, PNC said customers' personal or financial information was not compromised.

Experts have said denial-of-service attacks are meant to disrupt commerce.

In a CNBC interview in October, PNC CEO James Rohr said the bank had been “pummeled” by the hacking group and described for the first time just how extensive the onslaught had been.

“We had 38 straight hours of attacks on our systems, and we had the longest attack of all the banks. They just pummeled us,” Rohr said.

Many large U.S. banks, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo & Co., U.S. Bank, JP Morgan Chase, Capital One and BB&T were hit with the same type of attacks in September and October.

The government has said it suspects Iran might be behind the attacks. But the Qassam group claims it is retaliating over an anti-Muslim video posted to YouTube that mocks the Islamic Prophet Muhammad.

“The people, whoever it is, supposedly it's Iran, have said that they're going to just continue these attacks,” Rohr said.

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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