The number of banks targeted by the hackers who infiltrated JP Morgan Chase (JPM) last summer is rising. According to the New York Times Fidelity and E*Trade (ETFC) are among the dozen or more financial institutions possibly victimized in some way by the attacks.
Apparently the White House has been getting reports on the matter since last summer. An unnamed source told the Times that the President kept coming back to the central question: is this a matter of simple theft or is Putin retaliating?
The official answer is "we don't know." The unofficial, common sense view should be more along the lines of "don't be an idiot." Obviously it's not simple theft. Theft is when something gets stolen. Home Depot (HD), Target (TGT) and other retailers that have seen their point of sale systems hacked were victims of theft attempts. When hackers, seemingly based in a country we are actively imposing economic sanctions on, try to infiltrate top security levels at banks and payment services like ADP it's safe to assume something bigger is happening.
No one seems too worked up over this. Maybe that's because we've gotten so used to retail hacks and phishing schemes. They’ve been going on for years and usually involve a couple thousand stolen here or there. If it has happened to you you know it’s a huge hassle but not the end of the world.
We’ve become numb to these minor hacks and it’s given us a wildly inappropriate level of apathy when it comes to these much larger, more sophisticated attacks. We keep thinking in terms of having our wallets stolen, oblivious to the structural vulnerability of our entire financial system.
Since no one seems to be laying out the doomsday scenario let me do it. What if, after watching this segment, you clicked over to your brokerage account and found nothing there? What if that happened to 80 million of us all at the same time? What would you do? Have you ever lost a credit card and spent hours on the phone trying to get it replaced? Takes about a week. What if hackers with admin level access to all of our accounts simply moved the files so that your money just couldn’t be immediately found?
How do you even prove you’re really you in an electronic age? Our system is still based largely on every citizen having a unique social security number. Banks have that information. So does your employer. ADP is in payroll processing. They have your personal information. We’re told to never give out our social but you have to use it to do just about anything, including getting a freaking cell phone.
This is a monster national security issue. We’re obsessing over the insanely low-probability threat of getting Ebola while hackers rifle through our files and gather all your financial data.
If you want to attack America you wouldn’t wage war on us using high-priced weapons, and we’re too big to really care about economic sanctions. No. If you want to hit America hard what you’d do is attack our trust in the underpinnings of our financial system. Nothing would do that faster than hiding our money, if only temporarily. Your auto-pay bills wouldn’t get paid. Your cell phone would turn off. The economy would freeze.
To confuse that nightmare scenario with some penny ante credit card hack is the height of arrogance. It’s a lack of imagination and a false sense of security. Take off your hazmat suits and open your eyes: the country is being attacked. Hopefully our leaders will figure that out before our enemies decide to hide all our money.