Monday, February 7, 2011

Hackers Breach Nasdaq

Federal government investigators are puzzling the pieces to identify Hackers who have repeatedly penetrated the computer network of the company that runs the Nasdaq Stock Market.

The platform that facilitates the trading operations of the exchange was not compromised, investigators told the media. However, it couldn't be determined which other parts of Nasdaq's computer network were hacked.

Official on the case are considering a wide range of possible motives for the hack, including theft of trade secrets, unlawful financial gain and a national-security threat designed to hinder the exchange.

Because of Nasdaq's vital role to many other critical systems, the hacking has set off a series of alarms within the government. Such systems include power companies, air-traffic-control systems, auto transport providers and all part of the nation's basic infrastructure. Other infrastructure components have been compromised in the past, including a situation in which hackers implemented potentially viral software programs in the U.S. electrical grid, according to national-security officials.

"So far, (the hackers) appear to have just been looking around," said an individual involved in the Nasdaq matter. Another person familiar with the case said the incidents were, for a computer network, the equivalent of someone snooping around someone's house and not touching anything.

Investigation into the matter was initiated by the Secret Service and now the case involves the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The motive mystery of the hackers is making investigators scratch their heads. They remain unsure whether they have completely plugged all potential gaps in the exhange's security—especially considering invaders often seek new routes to breach systems.

The Nasdaq case is part of what cyber-crime authorities consider a broader problem of hackers nosing around corporate computer networks.

Businesses in the U.S. are a consistent target, and often times their public websites are vandalized. It is less common for hackers to break into internal systems. Breaches like the case with the trading exchange will rarely see the media because companies are afraid that acknowledging such hacks would chase away customers.

A former World Bank computer security official who now works for Core Security Technologies said the most elite hackers are increasingly targeting financial institutions, or companies tied to many connections, like car shipping companies and those involved in the stock market.

Many hackers also pinpoint companies tied to financial analysis software due to their valuable database information.

"Many sophisticated hackers don't immediately try to monetize the situation; they oftentimes do what's called local information gathering, almost like collecting intelligence, to ascertain what would be the best way in the long term to monetize their presence," he said.

Officials familiar with the matter claimed the Secret Service started the investigation last year. People taking on the case have informed White House officials of the case, according to the people working on the investigations.

Authorities on the case have not yet been able to pinpoint a specific individual or country. Those working on the case said that some evidence points toward Russia, but the backers could be potentially anywhere, perhaps using computers in Russia merely as a conduit.

The hack leads to two causes for concern: preserving the dependability and stability of digital trading and sustaining investor faith in that computerized system and their financial risk management.

NYSE Euronext spokesman added reinforcement to the subject: "We take any potential threat seriously and we are continually working to ensure that our systems operate at the highest levels of security and integrity,"

The individual did not release any specific instances of hacking attempts against that exchange.

The issue of computer hacking is a problem for many tech-advanced countries. In the past, authorities in the U.S. have battled cyberattacks connected computers in Russia, China and Eastern Europe.

Good hackers utilize geography as a smokescreen. Officials noted Albert Gonzalez, a pro hacker, landed his biggest digital heist with help from computers in Europe. His residence is in Miami. Gonzalez used computers in the U.S., Latvia and Estoniato to steal over 100 million credit-card numbers from many sources, according to a 2009 federal indictment. Many of his sources came from online shopping stores ranging from microfiber cleaning cloth makers to estate jewelers.