Major U.S. banks learn to cooperate after cyberattacks, FBI says

NEW YORK -- Big U.S. banks have learned to play nice, at least when it comes to cybersecurity.

Last year, when hackers bombarded, and in some cases hobbled, banks’ websites, the FBI met with representatives to discuss the attacks.

Bank officials initially were reluctant to share much information, however, according to Joseph Demarest, assistant director in the FBI’s cyberdivision.

“It was stilted,” Demarest said at a cybersecurity conference in New York on Tuesday. “Folks were rather protective,” he added, and “wouldn’t share in an environment with their competitors sitting in the same room.”

Months later, Demarest said, the large financial institutions began sharing more information about attacks with the government and each other. Now, he said, “We see a lot of cooperation.”

Demarest’s remarks provide a rare, if limited, look at the evolving behind-the-scenes battle to defend the U.S. financial system against a growing threat from criminals, other countries and terrorists.

Companies and government officials rarely speak publicly about the attacks, fearful of damaging corporate reputations or tipping off shadowy foes who are often overseas.

The bank assaults in question were so-called "distributed denial-of-service attacks" aimed at disabling institutions’ websites, creating a headache for consumers looking to check their accounts or pay bills. The attacks apparently did not result in any losses of customer funds.

Wall Street has lately shown signs of increased urgency to address the hacking threat. Last month, a major financial industry trade group conducted a cyberattack war game.

The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Assn. conducted “Quantum Dawn 2” on July 18. The simulation involved about 50 firms along with government agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security. SIFMA has yet to release its postgame report on the exercise.

Demarest was speaking on a panel at the International Conference on Cyber Security, which is being held this week at Fordham University in New York.


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