For at least three hours on Wednesday night, customers of NatWest, Ulster Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland found themselves unable to access their accounts either by phone or online. (All three are brands of The Royal Bank of Scotland, a commercial operation that is majority-owned by the British state following its near collapse during the 2008 banking crisis.)
According to The Guardian, the problem continued well into Thursday morning for some customers. Indeed, this week's problem seems to be in many ways a throwback to the snafu earlier this year, in which British checking account customers were unable to pay their mortgages, settle debts, or even withdraw cash for food, and which left some customers arguing over missed transactions even weeks later. This time, however, the bank denies that the problem is software-related.
[ What are U.K. companies' most pressing security concerns? Read U.K. Public Sector's Top Security Worries. ]
Further stoking customers' anger is the fact that so far the bank seems unwilling to accommodate those who, through no fault of their own, may now face problems on their credit scores and other issues resulting from the glitch.
According to The Guardian, a member of campaign group Move Your Money -- which describes itself as "a national campaign to spread the message that we can help to build a better banking system" – described the downtime as "like [the movie] 'Groundhog Day.'"
In its formal response, the bank said, "We are disappointed that our customers have faced disruption to banking services for a period on Wednesday evening, and apologize for that. All services are now running as normal again." It did not offer any more details about the disruption or how it had been resolved.
However, NatWest reportedly told an IT news site that a "hardware fault" on one of its IBM zSeries mainframes was responsible for blocking customers' access to ATMs and online banking services. (Since branches were closed at that time of night, customers were also unable to interact with tellers.)
The same IT site claims that last year's three-day emergency was due to human error -- allegedly, an employee "hit the wrong button" during what should have been a routine overnight batch job using banking software from CA Technologies to update a system handling inbound payments.
The problems that occurred last June raised an almighty stink in the U.K., and two brownouts may end up being one too many for the Royal Bank of Scotland. The Twittersphere is full of customers swearing to move their business to rivals: "Disgraceful service. Am moving my banking to Santander! You cannot be trusted with our money!!!"
All in all, it's quite amazing in 2013 to see Tier One banks having so many technical problems -- and responding to them with such poor PR.
Rick Falkvinge, the founder of the Swedish Pirate Party and a campaigner for sensible information policy, will present the keynote address at Black Hat Europe 2013. Black Hat Europe will take place March 12-15 at The Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky in Amsterdam.