November 18, 2008

Cyber-Attacks Threaten the IMF & National Security

by Anthony Bouselli

In our present financial crisis, any security breaches and penetrations into international organizations, especially monetary organizations, cause rippling effects which can further plunge the world into economic chaos. This month, cyber-attacks were launched against the International Monetary Fund (IMF), based in Washington, D.C., which provides emergency loans and financial planning to economically troubled nations. Spyware had successfully been integrated into the IMF's computer networks causing the organization to take its computer systems offline for days to remedy the problem.

Each day the economic situation worsens as the world's leaders struggle to cope and clean up the mess. In the present crisis, no financial organization can afford not to be able to be running at full capacity. These attacks, though not directly damaging, resulted in adding chaos in an already troubled time. In the real world, time is money — and each day the IMF was down cost the world big.

The IMF was not the only financial organization attacked in the past few weeks. For more than a year the World Bank has undergone repeated attacks; the World Bank holds some of the most sensitive financial data collected from most of the nations in the world. The repeated attacks upon the World Bank create a sense of unease in present times. No one knows what information has been stolen and what the end result will be, but hackers gained access to the high security treasury server. The World Bank's treasury server manages more than $75 billion in assets for itself and other nations. As many as forty of the bank's servers containing contract negotiation data were also hacked. Any disruption in a financial institution is not only espionage but a terrorist activity. Although the attacks on the World Bank have not resulted in a shut down and system wide purge like that involving the IMF, the attacks have been monitored. The IP addresses from two of the attacks originated in China.

China, a growing country with an exploding economy, craves natural resources like an addict. Many of China's raw materials are imported from primary product harvesting, third world countries under the tutelage of the international financial institutions. By hacking these organizations, the Chinese can monitor who will be giving loans to whom and what the measures of those loans will be.

Chinese hackers not only attacked financial institutions, but this November they attacked the White House computers as well hacking into unclassified e-mails. Foreign hackers have also attacked the e-mail servers of the campaign offices for President-elect Barak Obama and Sen. John McCain; the FBI claims that the attacks are to understand policies enabling the hacking country to negotiate with the new president in the future. Spokespersons for the Obama campaign claimed that the attacks originated either from hackers in China or Russia.

The internet provides the greatest challenge to the U.S. Defense Department. Constantly, a cat-and-mouse game of espionage, the goal of internet security is to stay ahead of the enemy and defend against tactics not yet tried. No computer system is an impervious fortress in the interconnected World Wide Web.

Especially today, during the financial crisis, the world cannot afford these crippling attacks as experienced at the IMF.

(The photo shows security guards outside the headquarters of the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C. in 2006, as they anticipate a protest; the photo is courtesy of Matthew Bradley, under a Creative Commons license via Flickr.)

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