Nasdaq attack will give impetus to calls for ‘internet kill switch’

5 Feb 2011

The Nasdaq stock exchange – crucial for many of the world’s leading technology companies – has been hit repeatedly by hackers over the past year and the FBI is on the case. The attacks could be a boost to calls for presidential powers for an internet kill switch.

While parts of the computer network were attacked by hackers the exchange’s trading platform wasn’t affected.

According to the Wall Street Journal the attacks have sparked fears of threats to US national security due to the pivotal role the exchange plays in the US economy and rank the threats alongside potential attacks on the electrical grid and air traffic control operations.

Internet kill switch

The attacks come as legislation led by US Republican Senator Susan Collins is being tabled to design an ‘internet kill switch’ effectively creating presidential powers to shut off the internet to protect against significant cybercrime threats to national security.

The revelation of the Nasdaq attacks could give fresh impetus to Collins’ efforts, despite the controversial move by Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak last week to block internet access to stem free speech.

Collins’ legislation is designed to create a mechanism where the US government can work with the private sector in the event of a ‘true cyber emergency.’

The Nasdaq attacks are being investigated by the US Secret Service and the FBI.

It is understood that the hackers snooped around rather than causing any damage, but the implications could be the US economy which is on the slow road back to growth cannot sustain an attack on one of its most vibrant stock exchanges.

Alarm bells are going off because hackers are increasingly targeting US companies and in particular financial institutions. One of the most common traits of attacks on financial institutions is that hackers tend to lurk and gather intelligence before making any significant strike. Indeed the intelligence that can be gather can be as damaging as an outright attack.

It is understood the illicit accessing of the stock exchange’s servers has been under investigation for over the past year but investigators have no firm lead on where the attacks originated or who is behind them.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years