Computer glitch takes out ATMs, online banking on a massive scale?


What really happened this weekend when ATMs would not work for many large financial institutions and online banking was not accessible? Did a computer glitch strike so many major banks at one time?

ATMs and Online Banking

According to the Orange County Register, some customers of Bank of America and Wells Fargo were unable to access online banking. Wells Fargo tellers in the area said it was "part of a national outage." Tellers reportedly had a hard time with even simple transactions like cashing checks or checking balances.

"Our systems are available but apparently a limited number of customers may have had issues accessing some account information," said Betty Riess, a spokeswoman for Bank of America, to the Orange County Register. "But it's very limited and sporadic and we expect to have it resolved shortly."

According to MyFoxPhoenix, Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo all declared that "computer issues" had "shut down their systems" on Saturday in Arizona.

The Birmingham News in Alabama reported the same outage problems with Wells Fargo, the city's third-largest bank by deposit. Wells Fargo spokesperson Jay Lawrence said, "We had some issues that affected some customers across our operating area Saturday afternoon." The problems allegedly meant the company didn't correctly reflect the account balances of some customers. By 7:30 PM, Lawrence stated all systems were 100% back up and running.


Bank Holiday

According to political and financial writer and activist Phil Brennan, who was hunting for news as it happened on Saturday, the affected banks included, U.S. Bank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Compass, USAA, Suntrust, Chase, Fairwinds Credit Union, American Express, BB&T on the East Coast, PNC.

Brennan suggested it was not a "computer glitch to do with the change in Daylight Savings Time," but a bank holiday to "devalue the dollar." He wrote, "In the light of what is going on geopolitically, I am still very suspicious about the reasons for this mass downtime of ATMs and Online Accounts. There is still a very distinct possibility that November the 11th will turn into an extended Bank Holiday so I would advise all those who can get their money out of their banks to do so, even if you have to pay your upcoming bills manually."

Prison Planet, which quotes Brennan, blames the "ATMs crashing across the country" on rumors of a "bank holiday" warning made last week which "could limit or prevent altogether cash withdrawals."

Wikipedia states that during the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt did declare an Emergency Banking Act, a "bank holiday" which shut down banks from March 9, 1933 to March 13. No matter the era, if a people can't get in their bank to access their money, it would cause panic.

Free Republic and Godlike Productions forums, as well Twitter, were in a bit of a frenzy over the "computer glitch" which affected so many banks. Godlike Productions also reported that Walmart, Winn Dixie, and Publix went down on Nov 6th and would not accept debit cards. Cash or check only, but then credit cards were later accepted yet had to be manually called in. Is it related in any way? 

Security Updates

Daylight Saving Time may have played a part in a the computer glitch, but quite a few banks suffered. Was it maintenance perhaps to fix security flaws? Many financial institutions said they fixed their apps last week after security firm viaForensics disclosed holes in financial mobile apps. The smart phone applications with vulnerabilities included Bank of America, Wells Fargo, USAA, Chase, and TD Ameritrade. Some of those are the same as Brennan listed.

However, CNET reported last week that PayPal, Wells Fargo, and USAA updated their apps to close the holes. TD Ameritrade claimed it would fix the vulnerability in the next version. Bank of America said it would address its app issue in a few days. Chase had no comment. 

Andrew Hoog, Chief Investigative Officer for viaForensics said in an email: 

I doubt the outages are related to changes prompted by our findings. However, our belief is that mobile apps will become the primary way customers choose to interact with not only financial institutions but with any other service which offers access form a smart phone. As such, there needs to be a significant increase in testing of both the application’s functionality and security. When changes are made to the application itself or the underlying operating system, a full regression test is necessary. Any shortcuts in these areas will put users at risk.

Specifically to security, we believe that there are security issues in mobile apps that puts users at risk for identity and financial theft. While every application provider we have encountered strives to provide a highly secure application, the fast pace of development often results in applications which are not subject to sufficient security testing. This places the general public at significant risk. By exposing vulnerable apps in our free public service appWatchdog, we directly empower users to protect their identity and financial data. 

If it wasn't to patch security holes in financial apps, then what caused the large scale bank outages? At the time of posting, none of the banks had responded with a comment. Do the red alert bank holiday theorists have it right?

What do you think?

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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