by Constantine von Hoffman

BofA Web Problems May Mean Wall Street Protests Are Already Moving Online

Oct 04, 20113 mins
Data and Information SecurityMalwarePhysical Security

The bank says they're not but the type and timing of the trouble makes that very hard to believe.

Are the problems with Bank of America’s website part of the Occupy Wall Street protests? If not then it’s just a matter of time before someone brings the increasingly popular movement to the online world.

Now in their 18th day, the peaceful anti-Wall Street protests are already a nationwide phenomenon. From New York it has spread to a dozen cities, including Boston, St. Louis, Kansas City, Mo., and Los Angeles.

Meanwhile,BofA’s website was crippled from Friday until Monday and even today people are being advised to expect delays when using it. The bank has repeatedly said this wasn’t the result of hacking or malware.

However, it sure looks like a denial of service attack and BofA has yet to offer any alternative explanations. The timing is also suspicious. The problems began the day after the bank announced a new fee for debit card users. Customer displeasure over the fee has been loud and widespread. As H.L. Mencken once observed, “It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place.”

If this is related to the Wall Street protests it would mean the online demonstrations are a lot more malicious than the real world version. So far the P2P protesters have been content to freely assemble, shout and wave signs or otherwise exercise the freedom of speech. (If they have gone beyond this it hasn’t been reported in the press.)

It’s no surprise that Anonymous has jumped on the bandwagon. Someone claiming to be the group vowed to retaliate and “erase the NYSE” after video showing police officers using pepper spray on protesters surfaced on the internet. The Atlantic reported today that someone else claiming to be Anonymous said the threat is a fake, designed to discredit the protests. For further claims and counter-claims follow #InvadeWallStreet on Twitter. (It’s hard to believe you don’t have something better to do, though.)

Regardless of the Anony non-sense, it is clearly only a matter of time before someone will hack a financial or government website and say Occupy Wall Street is the cause. The Department of Homeland Security – or someone claiming to be them – has warned companies that attacks may be coming. That probably means the threat level has been set to greenback. 

Even without doing anything malicious, Occupy Wall Street is using the web to its advantage. Vibe, an anonymous version of Twitter, is being used for some communications. The software lets users set how far the messages are available – they can be sent 30 feet away or globally. Users can also set the messages to self-destruct after a certain amount of time, making it that much more difficult for law enforcement to track.

However the most effective online action so far is taking place at agitprop sites like WeAreThe99Percent. There people are posting pictures of themselves holding a piece of paper telling how they’ve been hit by the Non-Recovery. That kind of thing is far more effective than hack attacks because it can change minds.