RIM, Bank of America Outages Weren't Part of a Hack

By Fahmida Y. Rashid  |  Posted 2011-10-12

Nowadays, when a Website is unavailable, may people immediately assume it has been hacked. However, sometimes, it is just a software or hardware glitch.

The most recent example appears to be Research in Motion. BlackBerry users in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina experienced service disruptions. There were issues with a "core switch failure" within its infrastructure, RIM said.

"BlackBerry subscribers in the Americas may be experiencing intermittent service delays this morning," RIM said on its Website Oct. 12, but declined to give any details as to what was going on, leading many to speculate that the company may be under attack.

RIM has drawn criticism lately for its alleged secret agreements it struck with countries like India and Dubai to continue operating in those countries. A handful of countries had threatened to block RIM from operating within its borders because of concerns that users could communicate on devices that the government couldn't intercept. During the riots in London over the summer, reports emerged that many of the disruptions were being planned using the BlackBerry Messenger service. RIM had pledged to cooperate with law enforcement without specifying exactly what that cooperation would entail.

Anonymous had promised to retaliate.

When Bank of America's Web site was intermittently down and unaccessible last week, speculation abounded about a potential attack. The outage began a day after the company said it would start charging a $5 monthly debit card fee. Customers were outraged and there was even an online petition at Change.org asking the bank to reconsider the decision.

Internet monitoring firm Keynote considered the pattern of intermittent activity suspicious. The site slowed down to a crawl beginning around 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. ET and would often be unavailable throughout the day.

While Shawn White, vice-president of operations at Keynote, did not say the slowdown was definitely a denial of service attack, he hinted at it very strongly to CNN Money. "I've never seen anything this severe, affecting the largest banking institution for this long, for this many people all across the country," White told CNN Money.

It turned out BofA's outage, which affected customers for five days, resulted from internal upgrades to the online banking platform. Again, there was no hack.

With everyone nervous about the next attack, organizations need to be upfront and communicate clearly. "What they should have done is just said, 'Our online site is down or is running slow, but our ATMs and branches are alive and well,'" says Gartner analyst Avivah Litan. "It could have been an easy and truthful way to respond."

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