This week, the NASDAQ was outed in a BusinessWeek article that claimed in February of 2010, the financial security of half the world’s economy rested solely in the hands of a couple hackers hailing from somewhere in Siberian Russia.
Despite dropping nearly $1 billion on enhancing its security over the past several years, the servers of the stock exchange started emitting strange signals, which tipped the FBI off to a potential attack that might have been sourced at its financial complex in Manhattan in late 2010.
NASDAQ officials assured the bureau that while it had been aware of the infection, there was no sign that the perpetrators of the campaign against its home base had made off with anything of importance that would put the market at risk.
Not one to be outdone by a lesser agency, it wasn’t long before both the CIA and the NSA stepped in to up the efforts of the investigation.
Even though much of the case itself still lies under a heavy layer of redacted facts and classified info, we know that even with their combined might, much of the traces left behind by the hackers lead to dead ends at almost every turn that the government tried to take on the trail.
It was nearly a year later before the NASDAQ finally alerted customers that a potential market-crashing infection had rained a siege down on their servers, and even then they were about as rough as they could be on the details of what exactly went down, who was behind it, and most importantly — why they had launched the effort in the first place.
Not one to be outplayed in the game of “I can be more secretive than you”, the United States government did everything they could to remove themselves from liability, while simultaneously reassuring the public that although the attack was serious enough to warrant a multi-pronged investigation on their part, the American people had nothing to worry about in the long run.
“We’ve seen a nation-state gain access to at least one of our stock exchanges, I’ll put it that way, and it’s not crystal clear what their final objective is,” says House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Republican from Michigan, who agreed to talk about the incident only in general terms because the details remain classified. “The bad news of that equation is, I’m not sure you will really know until that final trigger is pulled. And you never want to get to that.”
According to what we know, the hackers, whoever they were, were after nothing but total destruction of the US financial system, out to cause as much chaos, havoc, and financial panic as possible with the few vulnerabilities and zero days they had at their disposal.
It’s suspected that nothing more than an outdated version of Windows XP running on a trader’s computer could have been the crux that almost brought the world economy to its proverbial knees, but until the official documents are declassified in 2067, no one can say for certain just how bad things could have been the day the NASDAQ almost died.