Troubles Continue for IMF After Hackers Cause 'Major Breach'

The World Bank cut a network link with the IMF after the cyber attack

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Troubles for the International Monetary Fund have continued in the wake of Strauss-Kahn's scandal. The New York Times is reporting that the IMF was hit recently by "what computer experts describe as a large and sophisticated cyberattack." The implications of this are severe: the IMF has a "repository of highly confidential information about the fiscal condition of many nations," and "its database contains potentially market-moving information." The repository also contains communications with national leader that, in the words of one fund official, are “political dynamite in many countries.”

It's unclear what documents were accessed, but one official described the cyber attack as a “very major breach.” The fund's spokesperson David Hawley only gave the statement that, “We are investigating an incident, and the fund is fully functional.” However, in response to the attack, the World Bank, whose headquarters is across the street from the IMF, cut the computer link that allows the two institutions to share information. The World Bank even briefly shut down "external access to its most sensitive systems." However, according to the Times it "quickly resumed its normal operations and says it has seen no evidence of any attacks."

According to the Washington Post, the hacker group Anonymous recently called for an attack on IMF computers “in opposition to the corrupt Austerity Plans of the Greek Government leaders and the International Monetary Fund.” However Hawley said fund investigators do not think the group was involved in this incident.

Regardless of how the attacks occurred, newspaper outlets speculated as to the massive impact leaked confidential documents might have on the global economy. The Post speculates:

Depending on the type of information involved, the potential for such disruption is significant. Ongoing bailout talks in Greece, for example, hinge on whether private holders of Greek bonds will be forced to accept losses as a requirement of the IMF or other European nations lending more money to the indebted nation. Documents that shed light on the IMF’s position — or provide non-public information on the finances of Greece or other nations — could be used by traders to profit from.

Tom Kellermann, a former cybersecurity specialist at the World Bank who has been tracking the incident, told the Wall Street Journal that this latest infiltration involved significant reconnaissance prior to the attack, and code written specifically to penetrate the IMF.

"This isn't malware you've seen before," he said, making it that much more difficult to detect. The concern, Mr. Kellermann said, is that hackers designed their attack to gain market-moving insider information.

Meanwhile, the IMF still struggles to find a new leader after Strauss-Kahn. The Journal reports that although French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde is the favorite to take over, Israeli central banker Stanley Fischer has just announced a formal bid to head the International Monetary Fund. Mexico's central bank governor, Augustin Carsens has also announced his candidacy.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.