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PNC Bank's online systems have 'intermittent' problems for second day

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Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, 1:09 p.m.
 

Some PNC Bank customers for a second day experienced difficulty accessing their accounts online or through mobile devices.

The problems followed a warning this week by a computer hacking group that it intended to strike PNC and other large banks in a second wave of attacks, which started in September, in retaliation for an anti-Muslim video.

PNC's website was hit on Tuesday and Wednesday with problems that the Downtown-based bank described as “intermittent” in frequency and resulting in “slowness or difficulty accessing online and mobile banking.”

PNC, the state's largest bank, said it was aware that it could be targeted in denial-of-service attacks, which overwhelm a website with traffic.

“This potential threat could result in a high volume of electronic traffic that may make it difficult for our customers to log onto online banking,” the bank said in a statement. “Please be assured that PNC's website is protected by sophisticated encryption strategies that shield customer information and accounts.”

The cyberattack warning, posted Monday on Internet message board Pastebin, called for Bank of America, U.S. Bank, JPMorgan Chase and SunTrust to be hit along with PNC.

SunTrust suffered intermittent outages on Tuesday, and Bank of America said it had isolated problems, NBC News reported.

The message was posted by a group calling itself al Qassam Cyber Fighters Group, which claimed responsibility for attacks on large U.S. banks in September and October. The late-September attacks on PNC crippled the bank's website for two days.

The government has said it suspects Iran may be behind the attacks. But the Qassam group claims it is retaliating over a 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,” PNC CEO James Rohr told CNBC in October, about three weeks after the first round of attacks.

Dave Aitel, CEO of Immunity Inc., a Miami Internet security firm, said he agrees that the cyberattacks are most likely coming from Iran.

“It can be very dangerous for a hacker group” to provide as much communication with the outside world, Aitel said. “They don't act like a typical hacker collective.”

And, he said, Iran is one of the few places where hackers can operate without worrying about being picked up by American intelligence.

“That's what leads the very logical deduction that this is a nation-state action,” he said.

Aitel also said he thinks an Iran-sanctioned group is likely behind the cyberattacks against American banks because disrupting commerce in the U.S. is similar to the economic sanctions placed on Iran.

“The reason they're going after banks is, I think, because it's a direct corollary to what we're doing to them,” he 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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