IMF hit by major cyber attack – large quantity of data targeted

12 Jun 2011

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The International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s servers have been breached in a sophisticated cyber attack, adding to its woes in light of the highly publicised arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn last month and its ongoing search for a new leader.

The IMF is responsible for managing financial crises around the world, including those of Ireland, Greece and Portugal.

The attack is understood to have occurred before Strauss-Kahn’s arrest but it was late Friday night/Saturday morning before news of the attack filtered out. A large quantity of data was accessed.

The attack is believed now to be connected to a foreign government and the intention was to retrieve emails and other documents.

The IMF hasn’t revealed many details but it is believed that because the IMF is at the heart of economic bailouts for many nations around the world, it has become a target for increasingly militant hackers.

The IMF’s servers contain sensitive data on many of these countries and potentially explosive information on the goings on in these countries that lead to their respective economic collapses.

Hacktivism attack?

It is not clear yet what information the hackers were able to access but it is likely such information could end up being published online as a form of hacker activism.

It is believed the World Bank, which is located on the same street at the IMF, cut the chord on its computer links with the IMF to prevent the attack spreading to its servers.

Increasing militant hackers have been launching attacks on Sony, RSA, Google Lockheed-Martin, Citigroup, MasterCard and many others. Financial institutions are typically loathe to admit to have been attacked for fear of negative publicity.

Some reports have suggested a spear-phishing method was used, whereby a worker clicks on a seemingly innocent-looking link that launched the attack.

IMF staff have been issued with memos in recent weeks saying a desktop had been compromised and suspicious file transfers were detected. Staff were warned to be on their guard.

The recent attack on RSA that saw thousands of security tokens accessed is not believed to have been a factor in the current attack on the IMF.

This past week, it emerged that police in the Spanish cities of Barcelona, Valencia and Almeria have arrested three people suspected of being part of the hacktivist collective Anonymous.

The three people are said to have been involved in co-ordinating the group’s activity in Spain.

A computer seized from the home of one suspect was used in hacks on Sony, Spanish banks and co-ordinated action in support of WikiLeaks, the whistle-blowing website that published US embassy cables, a statement from Spanish national police said.

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com