[ISN] Exclusive: Meet the Secret Fed Cybersecurity Unit Keeping Trillions of Dollars Safe From Hackers

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/04/28/exclusive_meet_the_secret_fed_cyber_security_unit_keeping_trillions_of_dollars_s By Shane Harris Foreign Policy April 28, 2014 If the U.S. central banking system is ever hit with a crippling cyber attack, a group of roughly 100 government employees working in a three-story fortress-like building next door to a Buick dealership in East Rutherford, N.J., will be among the first to know about it. That’s where, almost entirely out of sight, a team from the Federal Reserve System’s crack cyber security unit is constantly on watch for malicious hackers, criminals, and spies trying to breach the computer networks of the Fed, its regional banks, and some of the most critical financial infrastructure in America. The National Incident Response Team, or NIRT, as the group is called (pronounced “nert”) tries to prevent intruders from breaking into Fed computer networks and money transfer systems used by thousands of banks across the U.S every day. Among the team’s most important protectees is the Fedwire Funds Service, a real-time settlement system that banks use to transfer money between accounts. In 2013, Fedwire handled on average $2.8 trillion in transfers every day. For several years now, current and former U.S. officials, as well as bank executives, have warned that cyber attackers could sow mass panic by disrupting critical financial networks such as the ones NIRT protects, causing the systems to crash or manipulating information so that customers didn’t know how much money was in their accounts and financial institutions couldn’t square their ledgers. The nightmare scenario for NIRT members is a malicious hacker gaining access to Fedwire or to sensitive computers used by the Treasury Department, such as the International Treasury System, which the federal government uses to make payments directly to foreign individuals and companies around the world and is also monitored by the NIRT. The cyber security team is the first line of defense for the central banking system. “If there’s a breach of Fedwire or another critical system, they’re going to wake the [Federal Reserve] chairman up out of bed,” said one former NIRT member. “That’s a shit-your-pants type of emergency. Anything that compromises the faith and trust in the [government-backed] money system. And that’s all bound to the Fed and Treasury systems.” […]