Cyberattacks targeting city could signal ominous threat
Pittsburgh is “ground zero” for cyber threats, U.S. Attorney David Hickton said on Friday, citing recent denial-of-service attacks on PNC Bank and last year's wave of bomb threats against the University of Pittsburgh that mostly were made via email.
Hickton made the comments during a meeting with reporters in his office Downtown, in which national security expert Paul Kaminski discussed the growing threat to the United States from individual hackers, criminal organizations and other nations bent on crippling “critical infrastructure” and stealing personal information, money and corporate secrets.
“I want the public to know that we are aware of the specific severity of the threat,” Hickton said, referring to the recent bank attacks. “We take it seriously.”
Downtown-based PNC Bank, the nation's seventh-largest, has been hit with attacks in a wave that began Dec. 11. The assaults can temporarily block access to the bank's website, frustrating customers.
A group calling itself the Martyr Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters claimed responsibility on an Internet message board for the assault and said the attacks will continue for at least six months.
The group, which says the attacks are in retaliation for an anti-Muslim video posted on YouTube, hit PNC and other large U.S. banks in late September with attacks that shut PNC's website for two days.
In the most recent attacks, PNC has been more successful in defending itself, with some customers experiencing only intermittent access problems.
Hickton and Kaminski said banks were more prepared for this latest round because of help from the federal government.
The National Security Agency provided technical assistance to help banks assess their computer systems and better understand the attackers' tactics, The Washington Post reported on Friday, citing unnamed sources.
The cooperation between the NSA and banks, industry officials told The Washington Post, underscores the government's fears about the unprecedented assault against the financial sector.
Kaminski, who was an undersecretary of Defense in the 1990s and is chairman of Rand Corp., said denial-of-service attacks are generally an unsophisticated type of cyber threat. But the recent attacks have grown in complexity, indicating a level of sophistication that is worrisome for what it might suggest about the future.
He described the attacks as “a warning shot across our bow of what might be coming.”
While no customer information was compromised in the recent attacks, some experts suggest that denial-of-service attacks could be part of a larger effort to infiltrate bank computer systems.
Others have said the group claiming responsibility for the attack is likely a front for Iran, which is seeking retribution for U.S. and Israeli cyberattacks on its nuclear capability.
While Kaminski said he could not comment on the source of the recent attacks or the motivation of the attackers, he said it's clear that the threat of a major attack on the financial system or other critical part of the economy is increasing.
“The good news is we have not seen any substantial attacks,” he said. But the nation is not “moving fast enough to prevent that.”
Alex Nixon is a staff writer forTrib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Add Alex Nixon to your Google+ circles.
Show commenting policy
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.
- It’s business, but not as usual in Pittsburgh
- Body found on North Side
- Garfield business reaches out to raise $90K for fixes
- Social media tip-offs missed in melee outside Monroeville Mall, security specialist says
- Plum school officials ignoring help, advocacy group’s chief says
- Western Pa. experts say nonprofit mergers take work
- Trib Total Media Outstanding Young Citizen Awards presents scholarship, 10 gold medals
- Influx of new members favors Flaherty as Steel City Stonewall Democrats vote on Allegheny County controller endorsement
- Comcast covers Western Pa. with volunteers
- Newsmaker: Alessandro Acquisti
- Million-dollar charitable effort aims to help Homewood kids