I was unable to access my Bank of America bank account online in late September, 2012. A notice kept coming up on the computer screen to retry logging in later which I did several times during the course of the day with no success. I thought maybe it was my fault, the wrong password or something, so I called the bank. A Customer Service representative explained that the bank’s website was experiencing technical difficulties but assured me that the problem would be corrected soon. She was unable to give me any information as to the nature of the problem, however. The site was shut down for a couple days, after which I was able verify that my $128.65 account balance was safe and secure. (Don’t laugh. I keep as little money in the bank as possible for reasons you will discern as we go along ).
Anyway, I learned a few days later that BoA’s website was shut down because it had been hacked in a cyber-attack, and that it wasn’t the first time. Indeed, it had been under repeated attack for almost a year. News of the earlier attacks had not been widely publicized and the bank denied the disruptions were the result of cyber-attacks. In an October, 2011, statement to ABC News the bank claimed that “the cause is still under review, but we have ruled out hacking or any link to the debit fee. We have not said the issues were due to volume either.” That was a lie. Hackers seriously disrupted the BoA website with so-called denial of service attacks that inundated it with an overwhelming number of requests for service causing it to crash.
As it turned out, hackers also struck JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo bank shortly after the most recent BoA hit. None of the banks may not know the extent of the damage for weeks or months. “The nature of the attack is sophisticated enough and large enough that even the largest of financial institutions would find it difficult to defend against,” according to Rodney Joffe, senior vice president of the security firm Neustar Inc. Officials with access to the classified information say that these sustained network attacks is the National Security Agency’s worst nightmare.
Again, the media devoted scant coverage of these serious developments and I imagine most Americans are unaware of what has gone down, much less the magnitude.
The attacks on the banks are widely believed to have been carried out by either terrorists groups or the Iranian government as part of a broad cyber war against the U.S. The general consensus is that Iran most likely perpetrated the strikes, however, in retaliation for attacks on the computer systems that run its main nuclear enrichment facilities.
President Obama secretly ordered an acceleration of cyber warfare that begun during the Bush administration. The new program code-named “Stuxnet” was launched against Iran in 2010. Obama’s expansion of the cyber attacks on Iran pushed the United States into an uncharted territory of warfare, “much as his predecessors had with the first use of atomic weapons in the 1940’s, of intercontinental missiles in the 1950’s and drones in the past decade. He [Obama] repeatedly expressed concerns that any American acknowledgement that it was using cyber weapons – even under the most careful and limited circumstances – could enable other countries, terrorist or hackers to justify their own attacks.” (NY Times.com, June 1, 2012).
The president’s concerns were justified because an element of the program “escaped” and was sent around the world on the Internet resulting in a copy of the computer worm being accessable on the public domain. It is suspected that the Iranians got a hold of it. Instead of shutting the program down, however, Obama ordered it to continue and contrary to keeping it under wraps to reduce the odds of triggering retaliation, his administration publicly confirmed for political gain that cyber attacks had been launched against Iran to impede its ability to build nuclear weapons and bragged about its effectiveness.
The Iranians in response began developing their own military cyber unit “to fight our enemies” in “cyberspace and internet warfare.” Indeed, Iran claims that its “Electronic Warfare Unit” hacked the control system of a U.S., top secret stealth drone flying over Iranian airspace in December, 2011. Expert opinion leans toward the theory that the drone which is estimated to cost between $1.25 – 1.75 billion each could not have been landed intact without overriding its control system. Iran’s apparent ability to capture the U.S.’s most top secret aircraft suggests that it is well on its way toward developing a sophisticated cyber hacking capability which would also give it the ability to strike the U.S.’s cyber network. Accordingly, if the attacks on American banks were retaliatory, Obama may have opened Pandora’s box. Given our dependence on computers that affect every aspect of our lives, the his administration’s escalation of cyber warfare unnecessarily, and some argue recklessly, increased the threat that U.S. enemies will target the nation’s computer network resulting in catastrophic consequences on commerce with attending national security implications.
The Obama administration is now in panic mode and scrambling to create by Executive Order a program to shield vital computer networks from cyber attacks because congress cannot be counted on to enact legislation fast enough.
The recent attacks on the nation’s largest banks, therefore, may just be opening salvo of worldwide cyber warfare that could escalate exponentially. America is a big bulls-eye. That’s why I only had $128.65 in my bank account; that’s all I’m willing to risk.
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