News provider Reuters reported this week that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has agreed to help U.S. banks and financial firms better protect themselves against hackers and other cyberthreats that may put sensitive financial data in jeopardy.
According to the report, fears of financial sabotage have grown so rampant that the Defense Department branch is providing Wall Street firms with information that it has collected regarding foreign hackers.
Details of specific data security measures are sparse, though NSA director Keith Alexander told Reuters that the agency plans to share information about known malicious software and may be considering expanding a program currently in practice in the defense industry.
Attacks targeting the financial industry have become more threatening in recent years, as hackers utilize more sophisticated and deliberate tactics to steal information. Given the amount of sensitive data that these financial institutions manage, a successful attack could potentially put the information of corporations and millions of consumers in peril.
Earlier this year, Citigroup revealed that computer hackers had breached its systems, accessing the information of more than 200,000 North American credit card holders. Though Citigroup, which operates the third largest bank in the United States, insisted the breach had been limited, the incident inspired regulators to call for more intense scrutiny over the data protection practices of financial institutions.
Additionally, the recent rise of so-called hacktivism has added a new challenge to the mix, as groups like Anonymous have threatened to take down the websites of the New York Stock Exchange and others as a form of protest. The hacker group has voiced its support of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and, if an attack is successfully carried out, it could spell trouble for the U.S. financial industry.
Alexander didn't reveal which banks the NSA would aid, but Reuters noted that the agency will only assist institutions that specifically ask for help. This will enable banks to avoid violating laws that allow them to operate across borders, Reueters stated, as certain data privacy regulations differ from country to country.
However, Alexander told Reuters that some of the most well-prepared companies, like Google and Lockheed Martin, have suffered damage from sophisticated hacks, indicating that some banks may not realize they need the help. It may only be a matter of time until the financial industry suffers a major breach unless preventative measures are taken.
"If they're getting exploited, what about the rest? We have to change that paradigm," he said.
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