Singapore bank suffers massive IT failure

Seven-hour outage of back-end computers affected all consumer and commercial banking systems

One of Singapore's biggest banks suffered a major IT outage on Monday that took down its computer systems for seven hours.

The outage knocked DBS Bank's back-end computer systems offline, leaving its customers unable to withdraw cash from ATM machines on Monday morning.

"We first knew of the problem at 3:00 a.m. (Singapore time) and by 10:00 a.m., all our branches and ATMs were fully operational. We are conducting a full investigation into the cause of yesterday’s problem, thus will not be in a position to comment much about the cause at this point in time," wrote Jenny Lee, a spokeswoman for the bank, in an e-mail response to questions on Tuesday.

The outage affected all of DBS' consumer and commercial banking systems, but no data was lost during the system failure, she said.

When DBS branches opened at 8:30 a.m. Monday, the bank was able to accept cash checks -- personal checks made out to 'cash' -- worth up to S$500 (US$359) until systems were restored, DBS said in a statement. Customers could also make cash withdrawals over the counter, and branches stayed open for an extra two hours, until 6:30 p.m.

While the root cause of the outage remains uncertain, DBS is investigating the system failure with help from IBM, which runs some of the bank's IT operations under an outsourcing contract.

"The bank has multiple levels of redundancy to protect against such occurrences and this is the first time a problem of this nature has occurred. We are now conducting a full scale investigation with our main vendor IBM," said David Gledhill, managing director and head of group technology and operations at DBS, in the statement.

It wasn't immediately clear why the bank's backup systems didn't prevent the outage.

DBS signed a 10-year outsourcing deal with IBM valued at S$1.2 billion in November 2002. That deal included the transfer to IBM of 500 DBS IT staff based in Singapore and Hong Kong. The scope of the agreement was broad, with IBM agreeing to "provide an integrated 24/7 customer help desk support, manage many of DBS' current applications, and provide systems management disciplines across the bank," according to a press release announcing the deal.

As part of the agreement, IBM also built new IT facilities in Hong Kong and Singapore, which used "the very latest computer technologies to further improve the processing power, security and back up capability of DBS' IT operations," the statement said. DBS retained direct control over many key IT functions, including IT strategy and architecture, IT security and "strategic projects," it said.

IBM was closely involved in efforts to bring DBS' computers back online after Monday's failure, the company said.

"IBM worked with DBS immediately to restore services disrupted by an outage in the bank's systems on Monday. IBM is committed to working with DBS on a full scale investigation and supporting the bank in providing high quality services to its customers," IBM spokesman Alvin Lai said in an e-mail.

The collapse of DBS' IT systems caught the attention of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the country's central bank, which oversees the financial services industry in the Southeast Asian city-state.

"As part of IT and operational risk management, banks are required to investigate promptly the causes of system breakdowns and take immediate measures to rectify system failures and restore customer services. Subsequent action is also required to strengthen the system and prevent future recurrence," an MAS spokeswoman said via e-mail.

Banks in Singapore are required to follow technology risk management and computer security guidelines issued by MAS that are designed to ensure the "robustness and resiliency" of banking and finance-related computer systems. "As part of its supervision of banks, MAS assesses banks' compliance with these requirements, and will take appropriate supervisory action where necessary," the spokeswoman said.


Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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