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Threatened wave of cyberattacks on U.S. banks fizzles

| Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A computer hacking group said it was initiating a new round of cyberattacks on American banks on Tuesday.

But as banks have improved their defenses, it's unlikely that many online banking customers noticed.

Wells Fargo & Co.'s website experienced unusually high traffic, spokeswoman Bridget Braxton said, yet “we have significant protections in place in an effort to ensure our online and mobile channels remain secure, available and operational.”

“We have seen high traffic volume today and, based on the pattern, we believe it is a denial-of-service attack,” Braxton said. “Most customers are not impacted, and customer accounts and personal information remain safe.”

Pittsburgh-based PNC had no problems Tuesday, spokeswoman Marcey Zwiebel said. Bank of America reported no issues, spokesman Mark Pipitone said.

Both those banks previously experienced temporary website shutdowns in so-called distributed denial-of-service, or DDoS, attacks by a group calling itself al Qassam Cyber Fighters.

Banks have figured out how to defend themselves, an Internet security expert said.

“If we don't hear anything, it's because banks have smartened up and taken care of their DDoS issues,” said Jeff Bardin, an Internet security consultant from Boston.

DDoS attacks flood a website with Internet traffic, often from an army of compromised computers and servers that can be controlled by hackers. The volume prevents legitimate users from accessing the website, but doesn't affect personal or financial information.

“What these DDoS's have created is a huge market for solutions,” Bardin said, referring to a growing number of outside companies that “scrub” incoming Internet traffic for banks and other companies.

The Cyber Fighters, which claimed responsibility for a series of attacks on PNC Bank and other large banks last fall and early this year, said the attacks would run Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday each week until several anti-Muslim videos were removed from the YouTube video-sharing website.

In a post to Internet message board Pastebin.com, the Cyber Fighters said when websites would be hit but, unlike in previous messages, it did not name the banks ahead of time.

Bardin said that signals the group is having difficulty finding sites that it can successfully disrupt.

The hackers would only announce their targets if they knew they were vulnerable.

“They don't know what they're going to hit because people have hardened their sites,” 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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