The International Monetary Fund has become the latest victim of a cyber attack believed to be carried out by hackers connected to a foreign government. The scope of the breach in the lender of last resort’s computer system is still unknown and the IMF has so far refused to release any details. But the New York Times, the first to break the story, talked to several senior officials who described it as serious. The breach occurred “over the last several months,” before Dominique Strauss-Kahn quit after being charged with attempted rape. The IMF’s board was apparently told of the attack on Wednesday and now the FBI is helping to investigate.
Reuters talks to a security expert who says the attack “was clearly designed to infiltrate the IMF with the intention of gaining sensitive ‘insider privileged information.’ ” Another expert says the hackers tried to install software that would give a government a “digital insider presence” on the IMF network that could give it access to sensitive, potentially market-moving data. It seems the code used in the attack was specifically developed for the IMF system. There is lots of information within the IMF that could be of interest to hackers, from detailed data about European bailout programs to confidential reports on countries that could be in economic trouble and even records of negotiations with international leaders.
Experts are particularly concerned about the IMF incident because it is the latest in a string of sophisticated attacks against large organizations, amounting to a stark reminder of how vulnerable sensitive computer systems are to hackers. The Washington Post notes this is the third recent attack against a major financial institution and points to “a pattern of cyber-espionage against key economic policymaking institutions” in recent years that some experts believe involves China. “Canada’s Treasury Board and Finance Ministry were targeted in January, and France’s Finance Ministry was hacked in December,” points out the Post. Over the past three months, Google, Sony, Lockheed Martin, and Citigroup have all reported being the victims of cyber attacks, notes Bloomberg.