Banks Adopt Military-Style Tactics to Fight Cybercrime

Banks Adopt Military-Style Tactics to Fight Cybercrime

Alfred F. Kelly Jr., Visa’s chief executive, is “completely paranoid” about the subject, he told investors at a conference in March. Bank of America’s Brian T. Moynihan said his cybersecurity team is “the only place in the company that doesn’t have a budget constraint.” (The bank’s chief operations and technology officer said it is spending about $600 million this year.)

The military sharpens soldiers’ skills with large-scale combat drills like Jade Helm and Foal Eagle, which send troops into the field to test their tactics and weaponry. The financial sector created its own version: Quantum Dawn, a biennial simulation of a catastrophic cyberstrike.

In the latest exercise last November, 900 participants from 50 banks, regulators and law enforcement agencies role-played their response to an industrywide infestation of malicious malware that first corrupted, and then entirely blocked, all outgoing payments from the banks. Throughout the two-day test, the organizers lobbed in new threats every few hours, like denial-of-service attacks that knocked the banks’ websites offline.

The first Quantum Dawn, back in 2011, was a lower-key gathering. Participants huddled in a conference room to talk through a mock attack that shut down stock trading. Now, it’s a live-fire drill. Each bank spends months in advance re-creating its internal technology on an isolated test network, a so-called cyber range, so that its employees can fight with their actual tools and software. The company that runs their virtual battlefield, SimSpace, is a Defense Department contractor.

Sometimes, the tests expose important gaps.

A series of smaller cyber drills coordinated by the Treasury Department, called the Hamilton Series, raised an alarm three years ago. An attack on Sony, attributed to North Korea, had recently exposed sensitive company emails and data, and, in its wake, demolished huge swaths of Sony’s internet network.

If something similar happened at a bank, especially a smaller one, regulators asked, would it be able to recover? Those in the room for the drill came away uneasy.

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