The FBI is investigating whether major U.S. banks and financial organizations hacked Iranian servers in retaliation for a series of data breaches that occurred in the summer of 2014.
According to a Bloomberg article, the retaliatory attacks may be partially due to U.S. officials’ refusal to intervene when foreign hackers infiltrated private U.S. companies earlier this year, a number of information security experts argue.
The security professionals go on to state that many of these corporate victims subsequently enlisted the help of cyber security firms in an effort to determine how they could disrupt hacker networks and find out what intellectual property might have been compromised.
The issue of “hacking back” predates this year’s data breaches. Back in February of 2013, JPMorgan Chase proposed in a secret meeting with the FBI, the Treasury Department, and other major financial institutions that hackers working from offshore locations target and bring down Iranian servers that had launched attacks against banking websites.
Then more than a year later, the FBI learned that a third-party had taken down the Iranian servers responsible for the JPMorgan breach earlier this summer, a revelation that prompted the Bureau to initiate its probe.
Federal officials condemn retaliatory hacks because they could potentially cause attackers still embedded in corporate networks to escalate their efforts. “Hacking back” could also have serious political and diplomatic repercussions if the hackers were sponsored by a nation-state such as Russia or China.
However, the Sony hack may have altered the playing field. Earlier in December, President Obama promised a “proportional” response for the Sony attack. Then last week, North Korea’s Internet went down on at least two occasions, leading some observers to wonder whether the U.S. government had been responsible for the outages.
The White House has declined to comment on those accusations.
Absent clear leadership from the federal government, retailers and banks are likely to continue taking matters into their own hands.
“It’s kind of a Wild West right now,” said US Representative Michael McCaul, who is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. “They’re very frustrated,” he went on, referring to those firms who have been breached.