"Through our normal security monitoring systems we detected suspicious files on the U.S. servers unrelated to our trading systems and determined that our Web facing application Directors Desk was potentially affected," according to a statement released by Nasdaq OMX Group.
"We immediately conducted an investigation, which included outside forensic firms and U.S. federal law enforcement. The files were immediately removed and at this point there is no evidence that any Directors Desk customer information was accessed or acquired by hackers," it said.
According to Nasdaq OMX, the trading platform infrastructure -- used to execute trades in real time -- isn't connected to Directors Desk or other Web-facing services.
The Department of Justice, as part of its ongoing investigation, had requested that Nasdaq OMX not notify its customers about the breach until February 14, 2011. But on Saturday, the company -- after consulting with the government -- issued its statement in response to a story in the Wall Street Journal that detailed the hack. Quoting unnamed sources, the paper also said that the attack, involving malware, was first discovered in late 2010, and that investigators had yet to identify the malware's origin or purpose.
Interestingly, the attack highlights how little damage criminals have apparently done to the world's stock exchanges. "Those responsible for securing stock exchanges around the world know that they are potentially a big target for hackers -- but the 'Hollywood scenario' of evil cybercriminal geniuses breaking into servers and messing around with the world's economies has so far been rebuffed," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, in a blog post.
Then again, attackers might not have been aiming for the real-time trading environment, but rather Directors Desk itself. The application, used by 10,000 senior executives and directors, is an online portal for sharing confidential information, backed by secure email, document management, Web conferencing, and collaboration tools, according to the Nasdaq OMX Web site.
Hacking Directors Desk might be attractive to criminals who didn't want to crash markets, but rather cash in using insider information. "For cybercriminals, that would be like hitting the mother lode," said Cluley.