Cyberattack Can’t Be Ruled Out for New York Stock Exchange Outage, Say Analysts

July 8, 2015 Updated: July 9, 2015

Trading in securities was suspended on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday at 11:32 a.m. “All open orders will be canceled. Additional information will follow as soon as possible,” stated a brief message on its website.

What exactly caused the shutdown is still under investigation, yet foul play could be a factor.

There is a high probability that adversarial nation-states are behind it.
— Casey Fleming, CEO, BlackOps Partners Corporation

Two major issues have hit the global stock markets hard. Stock markets around the world fell on Monday after the “No” vote in the Greece referendum. In China, things are even more severe, where its stock bubble burst and its markets have plummeted over $3.25 trillion in value.

“I would say there is a high probability that adversarial nation-states are behind it, based on their increasingly advanced capabilities and brazenness,” said Casey Fleming, CEO of BLACKOPS Partners Corporation, which does counterintelligence and protection of trade secrets for Fortune 500 companies.

The NYSE, on its twitter account, quickly denied the possibility of a breach: “The issue we are experiencing is an internal technical issue and is not the result of a cyber breach.”

The attacks on NYSE and United Airlines are being reported as separate incidents with separate causes, but being publicly traded companies, they have to be careful about what they say. The cybersecurity community, in particular, is still not ruling out the possibility of a cyberattack.

According to cybersecurity news service, The Cyberwire, “Early indications are that there’s no sign of cyber attack, but of course this bears watching.”

Fleming noted, the Chinese stock exchange is down 30 percent in the past three weeks, and “there is a possibility they are trying to manufacture a softer landing to the forecast hard landing.”

A representative from the New York Stock Exchange gave only vague details. Marissa Arnold, an NYSE spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement simply, “We’re currently experiencing a technical issue that we’re working to resolve as quickly as possible,” and noting that updates will be provided “as soon as we can.”

Fleming emphasized that it could also be an unrelated error, and that hackers may have nothing to do with the system going down. “It could be someone left a soda can on top of a server in the data center, or a rat chewing on a cable.”

“But the coincidence is way too high,” he said, noting that several systems seem to have gone down around the same time. “United Airlines was down after a computer glitch, other websites are down, and now the New York Stock Exchange is down.”

The New York Stock Exchange and the airlines would fall under the category of “critical infrastructure,” which are key systems and industries that keep the nation running. These critical infrastructures are key targets for nation-states in the event of war, and are also key targets for military cyberattacks.

According to a prominent members of the hacker collective Anonymous, who goes by the moniker “Strudalz,” “These disruptions are becoming more and more frequent, and when there’s even the tiniest of gap for information disclosure, these serious issues for the most part come back to China.”

Strudalz said, during an interview through Twitter, that “one could only imagine what isn’t being said” publicly by the NYSE and security officials, given the pattern of Chinese cyberattacks on U.S. government and business networks.

Such an attack would not be beyond the Chinese regime. It is open knowledge, Strudalz said, “that the Chinese have conducted themselves in an unruly manner on their own markets and currency,” noting their use of currency manipulation and fiddling with numbers.

Aside from the events now unfolding, Fleming noted that recent attacks from China make it the prime suspect for such things. China is suspected to be behind the recent massive breach of personal information at the federal Office of Personnel Management that affected close to 16 million workers, as well as a near-constant stream of cyberattacks against U.S. businesses.

“Our cybersecurity adversaries are becoming more and more advanced, and more and more capable,” Fleming said. “Although this could be a coincidence, the typical suspect is China. Over the coming days, we will get more information and intelligence.”

Follow Joshua on Twitter: @JoshJPhilipp