Back in 2010 the FBI picked up an alert that there was something strange happening on the computer systems at the NASDAQ stock exchange. What they found there was attack code, a digital weapon capable of damaging cyber-infrastructure.
The code had spyware in it that could send information back to its creator, and malware that could wipe out the entire exchange. Once NASDAQ let the government into their networks, analysts found not only this sophisticated piece of attack code, but also the footprints of Chinese cyber spies and criminal hackers. It turns out NASDAQ, one of the most important financial systems in the world, had been very lax about its cybersecurity.
The specific system being targeted by the spyware was NASDAQ’s Director’s Desk, software used for confidential communications between the directors of publicly traded companies. The first assumption investigators made was that the hackers were after companies’ secret communications in order to make money in the stock market. This assumption turned out to be false.
Evidence started building supporting a different assumption. The code suggested the Russians were at the heart of the hack. The big question was the timing and motive. During the same time period as the hack, Russia’s two stock exchanges were merged, and the government was pushing Russian firms to list solely on the new exchange. Investigators realized that the intention of the hack was to clone some of NASDAQ’s best software to help realize Vladimir Putin’s goal of making the Russian exchange one of the best in the world, on the cheap.
Read more from Bloomberg here.