Hackers have attacked the United States' largest bank and at least four other American financial institutions, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said Thursday. CNN reports that as many as seven of the nation's top 15 banks were hit, and unnamed sources tell The New York Times that JPMorgan Chase & Co. lost sensitive information in the breach, including checking and savings account information.
Computer crime expert Alexander Southwell says that while most big banks have top-of-the-line cyber security in place to protect their data, sometimes hackers are still able to get ahead of the curve.
"The work of cyber security is often like 'whack-a-mole,' with new threats regularly emerging, followed by efforts to stop those threats, when then leads to threats emerging in different ways," Southwell tells USA Today. "This attack may simply be another round in that 'game.'"
The unfortunate reality is that cyber crime is indeed a moving target, and none of us can ever be 100 percent sure that we are safe from identity theft. That is why, in today's world, it is crucial to invest in a credit monitoring service.
While such services cannot guarantee that your information will be safe from digital predators, they can alert you to certain red flags that may be indicators of fraud. This allows you to take steps to guard your identity and stop the criminals before they are able to do significant damage to your credit. Without such a warning, some victims may not realize that they have been hit for months or even years, when the damage has already been done. Remember that every American is also entitled to one free credit report per year.
JPMorgan says it has not seen evidence of fraud related to the attack so far, but it is advising customers to contact bank officials if they notice any strange or unusual activity on their accounts.
Some analysts say the sophistication of the attack appears beyond the range of ordinary cyber criminal behavior. While government officials have not yet publicly identified possible hackers, Bloomberg News reports that unnamed sources have attributed it to Russians, possibly affiliated with the government in Moscow. In that case, the breach could be in retaliation for the United States' criticism of Russia's behavior toward Ukraine. The relationship between the two countries has grown steadily more strained in recent months.
A slew of federal agencies, from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to the National Security Agency (NSA), are reportedly investigating the breach.
"The way the Russians do it, to the extent we can see into the process, is they encourage certain targets," Director of the Strategic Technologies program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, James Lewis, told Bloomberg. "The Russians typically keep open the options to do something more, and the question now is what would trigger that and what would our response be."
Whether the attacks were in fact motivated by espionage or simply for financial gain, many Americans have likely been exposed to the risk of identity theft. In fact, a recent study found that personal information belonging to an estimated one in two adults in this country has fallen into criminal hands. This latest breach is yet another reminder to do everything you can to aggressively protect yourself against fraud.