The New York Stock Exchange suffered from a large-scale computer interruption Wednesday in the middle of the trading day, adding a layer of worry to what was already a troublesome day on Wall Street.
The interruption came as computer systems used by United Airlines also went down, causing a temporary disruption of flights across the country. The homepage of The Wall Street Journal, one of the largest financial news publications in America, also suffered from a brief outage Wednesday.
The combined computer issues left many people speculating about a coordinated cyberattack at a time when such malicious interruptions have become somewhat routine (Sony Pictures, Target and the latest involving a software development company known as the Hacking Team).
Fanning the fuel of such speculation was a tweet widely cited by news organizations originating from a Twitter account affiliated with the activist group Anonymous that ominously warned of a “bad” day for Wall Street.
“Wonder if tomorrow is going to be bad for Wall Street,” the tweet sent from the account “Your Anonymous News” read. “We can only hope.”
The tweet, brought to light shortly after issues at the New York Stock Exchange began, led many news organizations to speculate if Anonymous had some involvement in the computer issues impacting trades.
“Anonymous targeted Wall Street in cryptic tweet on eve of NYSE shutdown,” read a tweet from the political publication The Hill.
“Did Anonymous take down the NYSE?” asks the headline on a Huffington Post story.
And on Twitter, Facebook and other social-media websites, conspiracy theories were flying, questioning how Anonymous could have accurately predicted a problematic trading day for the exchange. Several commenters drew the conclusion that the prediction couldn’t have been just a coincidence.
But it’s almost certainly a coincidence.
First, the Twitter account at the center of the speculation was started years ago as an aggregate service to collect and promote news stories on Anonymous-oriented initiatives. It had traded hands between journalists and activists several times over the last few years. Rarely, though, does the account tweet Anonymous-oriented initiatives before they come to light; instead the account usually promotes Anonymous activities after the fact.
Second, the tweet in question is incredibly broad and likely has very little to do with a cyber campaign. Instead, it’s more likely that the tweet was speculative of troubles in the stock market brought on by investment issues in China and an economic crisis in Greece. The ongoing crisis in Greece, for example, has caused a dip in foreign markets all week.
And third, officials at the NYSE and in federal law enforcement believe the issue on Wednesday was triggered by a glitch caused by a software upgrade, not by a malicious cyberattack. According to The New York Times:
“Federal regulators and law enforcement agencies monitored the situation for any sign of an outside attack and ultimately saw nothing indicating anything other than an internal software error.”
That software error could have been caused by any number of factors, including the recently observed “leap second” which has been known to cause computer glitches in the past.
Sometimes hacking groups will take advantage of a computer glitch or a website error in order to bring itself more attention (the hacking group known as Lizard Squad has done this a handful of times). In this case, though, even the Your Anonymous News account appears to concede that its tweet hours before the glitch on Wall Street was nothing more than a eerily timed coincidence.
“YAN successfully predicts NYSE fail yesterday,” the group tweeted. “Hmm.”
The account has called for a protest at the New York Stock Exchange for 5 p.m. Thursday, or about a half-hour after the close of the trading day. So perhaps the group will cause some disruption on Wall Street after all.
Matthew Keys is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.