JPMorgan Chase deposits blame, sort of, for outage

Bank's explanation points to authentication database issue

JPMorgan Chase is trying to move past three days of problems on its online banking site with an apology and an explanation that seems to put the cause on a third party.

The bank's online site went offline Monday night and remained offline Tuesday. Service appeared restored by Wednesday, although there were some reports by Twitter users of problems.

The bank, in a statement posted online, said it was "sorry for the difficulties" that customers encountered, and said "we apologize for not communicating better with you during this issue."

At first, Chase simply cited a "technical issue" for the problem. It has since provided a little more information.

The bank, the nation's second largest, said in a separate statement that a "third party database company's software caused a corruption of systems information disabling our ability to process customer log-ins to chase.com." It added that the problem "resulted in a long recovery process."

Analyst Curt Monash of Monash Research, commenting on the bank's explanation, said: "Their ambiguity is unhelpful."

JPMorgan seems to be saying that "their authentication database failed in some way," Monash said. A security database is often managed separately from a database management system, he said.

During the outage, customers couldn't use the online banking site, but the bank's ATMs, branches and call centers were unaffected. ATMs, for instance, use different authentication technologies -- bank cards and user PINs.

The "third party" reference could mean that the bank bought software elsewhere, Monash said. "It's hard to imagine that they would outsource authentication - it's too core," said Monash, who also wrote about the problem on his blog.

The bank said customer data was never at risk. Tom Kelly, a bank spokesman, said he had no problem logging on to the system today.

Emmett Higdon, an analyst at Forrester Research, said the outage underscores the importance of online banking. "We've come to rely on such high availability that if there is any outage we get very, very annoyed, " he said.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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