The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has become the latest well-known organisation to suffer a major breach of its IT systems, in what some reports have suggested was a spear phishing attack orchestrated by a foreign government.
The IMF, which oversees the global financial system and was instrumental in the economic bailout of countries such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal, said that it had suffered "an incident", but maintained that its fund is "fully functional".
Reports suggested that the IMF was forced to cut its network connection to the IT systems of the World Bank, located nearby, after finding that a compromised desktop had been used to access confidential files.
Security experts warned that the security of the world's critical infrastructures is at risk unless large organisations better prepare themselves for such sophisticated attacks.
Ovum analyst Graham Titterington argued that, as most information thefts are launched through an internet-facing application in the corporate gateway, improving the coding standards of apps or putting an application layer firewall in place is a step forward.
"Monitoring data movements, data encryption and data loss prevention systems can also reduce the loss of information directly from electronic systems, particularly with regard to high volume theft," he said.
"In this case it appears to have flagged the data breach, but not soon enough to prevent the damage being done."
David Beesley, managing director of consultancy Network Defence, added that IT teams need to use a mixture of layered security technology and user education.
"Employees should be aware that even plausible-looking emails should be treated with suspicion, and IT teams should look at their anti-virus and anti-spam solutions to try to stop malware propagating," he said.
"Using web proxies can stop executables and exploit code from reaching desktops, and intrusion detection systems can help spot unusual data traffic movements."
The IMF breach comes as hacking attacks on major businesses and governmental organisations are snowballing, with Chinese perpetrators often suspected.
China's ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, was forced to defend his country's cyber security record recently, saying that China supports international co-operation on cyber crime and that the country is a victim too.
The news comes at a bad time for the IMF, as it struggles to recover from the resignation of its managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn after he was arrested in New York on charges of rape.
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