IMF hacker may have been backed by a 'rogue nation'

A CYBER attack on the IMF aimed to steal sensitive insider information, a security expert said yesterday, as the race to lead the body which oversees global financial system heated up.

The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation is helping to investigate the attack on the International Monetary Fund, the latest in a rash of cyber attacks on high-profile companies and institutions.

"The IMF attack was clearly designed to infiltrate the IMF with the intention of gaining sensitive 'insider privileged information'," cyber security specialist Mohan Koo, who is the managing director of Dtex Systems in London said.

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An internal memo from IMF chief information officer Jonathan Palmer on 8 June told staff the Fund had detected suspicious file transfers and that a desktop computer "had been compromised and used to access some Fund systems".

"At this point, we have no reason to believe that any personal information was sought for fraud purposes," it said.

The IMF says its remains "fully functional" but has declined to comment on the extent of the attack or the nature of the intruders' goal.

News of the hack came at a sensitive time for the world lender of last resort, which is seeking to replace former managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who quit last month after being charged with the attempted rape of a hotel maid.

French finance minister Christine Lagarde remains the frontrunner to replace him, although Stanley Fischer, the Bank of Israel governor and a former IMF deputy chief, has emerged as a late candidate, and Mexico's central bank chief, Agustin Carstens, is another contender.

Jeff Moss, a self-described computer hacker and member of the US Department of Homeland Security Advisory Committee, said he believed the attack was conducted on behalf of a nation-state looking to either steal sensitive information about key IMF strategies or embarrass the organisation.

He said it could inspire attacks on other large institutions. "If they can't catch them, I'm afraid it might embolden others to try," said Moss.

Tom Kellerman, a cybersecurity expert who has worked for both the IMF and the World Bank, said the intruders had aimed to install software that would give a nation-state a "digital insider presence" on the IMF network.

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"It was a targeted attack," said Kellerman, who serves on the board of a group known as the International Cyber Security Protection Alliance.

The code used in the IMF incident was developed specifically for the attack on the institution, said Kellerman,

CIA Director Leon Panetta told the US Congress the US faced the "real possibility" of a crippling cyber attack on power systems, the electricity grid, security, financial and governmental systems.

Lockheed Martin, the US government's main IT supplier, disclosed two weeks ago that it had thwarted a "significant" cyber attack.