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SEC Says Hackers Like NSA Are Biggest Threat to Global Financial System

Reuters reports that, in the wake of criminals hacking the global financial messaging system SWIFT both via the Bangladesh central and an as-yet unnamed second central bank, SEC Commissioner Mary Jo White identified vulnerability to hackers as the top threat to the global financial system.

Cyber security is the biggest risk facing the financial system, the chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said on Tuesday, in one of the frankest assessments yet of the threat to Wall Street from digital attacks.

Banks around the world have been rattled by a $81 million cyber theft from the Bangladesh central bank that was funneled through SWIFT, a member-owned industry cooperative that handles the bulk of cross-border payment instructions between banks.

The SEC, which regulates securities markets, has found some major exchanges, dark pools and clearing houses did not have cyber policies in place that matched the sort of risks they faced, SEC Chair Mary Jo White told the Reuters Financial Regulation Summit in Washington D.C.

“What we found, as a general matter so far, is a lot of preparedness, a lot of awareness but also their policies and procedures are not tailored to their particular risks,” she said.

“As we go out there now, we are pointing that out.”

Of course, the criminals in Bangladesh were not the first known hackers of SWIFT. The documents leaked by Snowden revealed NSA’s elite hacking group, TAO, had targeted SWIFT as well. Given the timing, it appears they did so to prove to the Europeans and SWIFT that the fairly moderate limitations being demanded by the Europeans should not limit their “front door” access.

Targeting SWIFT (and credit card companies) is probably not the only financial hacking NSA has done. One of the most curious recommendations in the President’s Review Group, after all, was that “governments” (including the one its report addressed, the US?) might hack financial institutions to change the balances in financial accounts.

(2) Governments should not use their offensive cyber capabilities to change the amounts held in financial accounts or otherwise  manipulate the financial systems;

Second, governments should abstain from penetrating the systems of financial institutions and changing the amounts held in accounts there. The policy of avoiding tampering with account balances in financial institutions is part of a broader US policy of abstaining from manipulation of the financial system. These policies support economic growth by allowing all actors to rely on the accuracy of financial statements without the need for costly re-verification of account balances. This sort of attack could cause damaging uncertainty in financial markets, as well as create a risk of escalating counter-attacks against a nation that began such an effort. The US Government should affirm this policy as an international norm, and incorporate the policy into free trade or other international agreements.

After which point, James Clapper started pointing to similar attacks as a major global threat.

I don’t mean to diminish the seriousness of the threat (though I still believe banksters’ own recklessness is a bigger threat to the world financial system). But the NSA should have thought about the norms they were setting and the impact similar attacks done by other actors would have, before they pioneered such hacks in the first place.

What Is the Point of the SEC ECPA-Reform Power Grab?

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee had a hearing on Electronic Communication Privacy Act reform, the main goal of which is to provide protection for content served on a third party’s server. Because reform is looking more inevitable in Congress (the House version of the bill has more sponsors than any other), government agencies used the hearing as an opportunity to present their wish list for the bill. That includes asking for an expansion of the status quo for civil agencies, with witnesses from SEC, DOJ, and FTC testifying (DOJ also made some other requests that I hope to return to).

Effectively, the civil agencies want to create some kind of court order that will provide them access to stored content. A number of the agencies’ witnesses — especially SEC’s Andrew Ceresney — claimed that a warrant is the same as an order, which culminated in Sheldon Whitehouse arguing (after 45:30) that an order requiring court review is actually less intrusive than a warrant because the latter is conducted ex parte.

It took until CDT policy counsel (and former ACLU lawyer) Chris Calabrese to explain why that’s not true (after 2:08):

We have conflated two really different and very different things in this committee today. One is a court, some kind of court based on a subpoena and one is a probable cause warrant. These are not the same thing. A subpoena gives you access to all information that is relevant. As pursuant, relevant to a civil investigation, a civil infraction. So if you make a mistake on your taxes, that’s a potential civil infraction. Nothing that has been put forward by the SEC would do anything but be a dramatic expansion of their authority to get at ordinary people’s in-boxes. Not just the subjects of investigation, but ordinary folks who may be witnesses. Those people would have the–everything in their in-boxes that was relevant to an investigation, so a dramatic amount of information, as opposed to probable cause of evidence of a crime. That’s a really troubling privacy invasion.

I’m utterly sympathetic with Calabrese’s (and the EFF’s) argument that the bid for some kind of civil investigative order is a power grab designed to bypass probable cause.

But I wonder whether there isn’t another kind of power grab going on as well — a bid to force banks to be investigated in a certain kind of fashion.

It was really hard, to begin with, to have former and (presumably) future Debevoise & Plimpton white collar defense attorney Andrew Ceresney to talk about how seriously SEC takes it job of  “the swift and vigorous pursuit of those who have broken the securities laws through the use of all lawful tools available to us,” as he said in his testimony and during the hearing. There’s just been no evidence of it.

Moreover, as Ceresney admitted, SEC hasn’t tried to obtain email records via an order since the US v. Warshak decision required a warrant in the 6th Circuit, even though SEC believes its approach — getting an order but also providing notice to the target — isn’t governed by Warshak. As SEC Chair Mary Jo White (another revolving door Debevoise & Plimpton white collar defense attorney) said earlier this year,

“We’ve not, to date, to my know­ledge, pro­ceeded to sub­poena the ISPs,” White said. “But that is something that we think is a crit­ic­al au­thor­ity to be able to main­tain, done in the right way and with suf­fi­cient so­li­cit­ous­ness.”

For five years, the SEC hasn’t even tried to use this authority, all while insisting they needed it — even while promising they would remain “solicitous,” if there were any worries about that.

Claims that the SEC needed such authority might be more convincing if SEC was actually pursuing crooks, but there’s little evidence of that.

Which is why I’m interested in this passage, from a letter White sent to Pat Leahy in April 2013 and appended to Ceresney’s testimony, explaining why SEC can’t have DOJ obtain orders for this material.

DOJ only has authority to seek search warrants to advance its own investigations, not SEC investigations. Thus, the Commission cannot request that the DOJ apply for a search warrant on the SEC’s behalf. Second, many SEC investigations of potential civil securities law violations do not involve a parallel criminal investigation, and thus there is no practical potential avenue for obtaining a search warrant in those cases. The large category of cases handled by the SEC without criminal involvement, however, have real investor impact, and are vital to our ability to protect- and, where feasible, make whole – harmed investors.

The only times when SEC would need their fancy new order is if the subject of an investigation refuses to turn information voluntarily, and the threat that they could obtain an order anyway is, according to Ceresney, they key reason SEC wants to maintain this authority (though he didn’t argue the apparent absence of authority has been responsible for SEC’s indolence over the last 5 years). But that act, refusing to cooperate, would get companies more closely into criminal action and — especially under DOJ’s purportedly new policy of demanding that companies offer up their criminal employees — into real risk of forgoing any leniency for cooperation. But White is saying (or was, in 2013, when it was clear Eric Holder’s DOJ wasn’t going to prosecute) that SEC can’t ask DOJ to subpoena something because that would entail a potentially criminal investigation.

Well yeah, that’s the point.

Then add in the presumption here. One problem with prosecuting corporations is they hide their crimes behind attorney-client and trade secret privileges. I presume that’s partly what Sally Yates meant in her new “policy” memo, noting that investigations require a “painstaking review of corporate documents … which may be difficult to collect because of legal restrictions.” SEC’s policy would be designed for maximal privilege claims, because it would involve the subject in the process.

 

If the legislation were so structured, an individual would have the ability to raise with a court any privilege, relevancy, or other concerns before the communications are provided by an ISP, while civil law enforcement would still maintain a limited avenue to access existing electronic communications in appropriate circumstances from ISPs.

 

Other criminals don’t get this treatment. Perhaps the problems posed by financial crime — as well as the necessity for broader relevancy based evidence requests — are unique, though I’m not sure I buy that.

But that does seem to be a presumption behind this SEC power grab: retention of the special treatment financial criminals get that has thus far resulted in their impunity.

Lanny Breuer’s Theory of Chatting Accountability for CEOs

This whole video is worth watching. Eliot Spitzer, former US Attorney Mary Jo White, and Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer discuss financial crimes, with SIGTARP head Neil Barofsky moderating. I was fairly troubled, in general, of the hesitations White and Breuer expressed over actually prosecuting financial crime.

But I found the passage just after 46:00, where Lanny Breuer argues you don’t need prosecutions for deterrence among CEOs, to be stunning.

Look, I want to be clear, I don’t want to suggest for a moment that we don’t–and we will–aggressively pursue cases criminally but, I guess both as a defense lawyer, which I was for many years, a white collar defense lawyer and now as AAG, I don’t think we should completely discount the deterrent effect when we investigate cases even if we don’t bring them.

If a CEO or CFO of a major institution feels that he or she is subject to criminal liability, when we interview them or put them in the grand jury, they have lawyers and this is hanging over their head for years and years. It may be at the end we decide not to prosecute the company or the individual but I think it’s really inaccurate to suggest that that doesn’t have a very strong effect. I’m not sure CEOs on Wall Street right now feel as if they can do what they want and there’s no deterrence.

He returns to a discussion of “going in and out” between corporate representation and DOJ after 52:00 and he avoids talking about robo-signing at 1:00.

As you read that, think about what has happened with Lloyd Blankfein. He bullshitted Carl Levin’s investigatory committee back in April 2010. Levin released a report last year stating he had lied, and referred his investigation to DOJ.

And Lloyd Blankfein, who almost two years ago didn’t take Congress sufficiently seriously to tell the truth, is still running around free profiting off of European countries’ debts.

Does Breuer really think seeing Blankfein treat Congress and regulators with utter disdain served as a deterrent to anyone? On the contrary, what appears to have been Lanny’s Chatting Accountability for CEOs only serves to show that these MOTUs are above the law.