The attackers have been targeting some of the country's largest financial institutions. On Oct. 16, in the fifth week of the banking attacks, CapitalOne even saw its online banking and corporate sites get disrupted by attackers for a second time, in what was the first repeat attack. Meanwhile, on Oct. 18, HSBC confirmed that not just its U.S. websites but also some global websites had been disrupted by attackers.
"HSBC servers came under a denial of service attack which affected a number of HSBC websites around the world," according to an Oct. 18 statement issued by the bank on the day it was attacked. "This denial of service attack did not affect any customer data, but did prevent customers using HSBC online services, including internet banking." By later that day, however, the bank said it had restored service.
While the outages are annoying for customers, they could also spell lost revenue for the businesses involved. Accordingly, might these bank website attacks portend a future in which hacktivists regularly seek to cause economic damage to U.S. businesses as a form of protest, or even low-grade cyber warfare? Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, in a recent speech delivered to the Business Executives for National Security, suggested that possibility, as he warned how "a destructive cyber terrorist attack could paralyze the nation." Speaking of the attacks on bank websites, he said: "While this kind of tactic isn't new, the scale and speed was unprecedented."
Many cybersecurity watchers saw Panetta's speech as a thinly veiled threat to Iran. In recent weeks, U.S. government officials--again, speaking anonymously in media interviews, and referencing what they said were classified intelligence reports--have said that the signature of the banking attacks has been traced to a group of fewer than 100 information security specialists, all based at Iranian universities and technology companies, who are backed by the Iranian government.
In light of those allegations, the Cyber fighters of Izz ad-din Al qassam have sought to shift the question of Iranian government backing back to the Innocence of Muslims film. "With a little searching, we still found the anti-Islamic offensive film on the Internet. Thus the chain of cyber attacks on U.S. banks will continue this week," they wrote in a Pastebin post previewing the fifth week of attacks.