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Hackers Target NASDAQ

February 6, 2011

The company that runs the NASDAQ stock market was the victim of a series of attacks from hackers whom penetrated a service that handles confidential communications between public companies and their corporate boards.

The Associated press (AP) reports that the service, NASDAQ OMX Group Inc, carries strategic information for about 300 companies. The company said it appears that no customer data was compromised in the attack. It said hacking attempts did not affect its tracking systems either.

The targeted application, Directors Desk, is designed to make it easier for companies to share documents with directors between scheduled board meetings. It also allows for online discussions and conferences within a board.

The company said that since board directors usually have unlimited access to a company’s high-level information, penetration of the service could be of great value to hackers seeking insider trading. A webpage for the applications states: “Directors Desk provides multiple layers of security to protect our clients’ most vital corporate records.”

A federal official, speaking anonymously because of continuing investigations by the FBI and Secret Service, said that hackers broke into the systems repeatedly over more than a year. Investigators are now trying to identify those hackers, the official told the AP.

Frank DeMaria, spokesman for NASDAQ OMX, told AP’s Peter Svensson that the Justice Department requested the company remain silent about the intrusion until at least February 14. However, the investigation was uncovered and reported on by The Wall Street Journal late Friday, prompting NASDAQ to issue a statement and notify its customers.

NASDAQ OMX detected “suspicious files” during a security scan on US servers, said DeMaria. The scan determined that Directors Desk was potentially affected by illegal activity. OMX pulled in forensic firms and federal law to launch an investigation. The company found there was no evidence that any customer information was accessed by hackers.

This was not the only incidence of Web hacking NASDAQ has gone through since going online. In 1999, hackers infiltrated the websites of NASDAQ and the American Stock Exchange leaving disturbing messages, but even then, NASDAQ officials said there was no evidence the hacks affected financial data.

NASDAQ is the largest electronic securities trading market in the U.S. with more than 2,800 listed companies.

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