WASHINGTON -- The cyber attacks on the websites of major U.S. banks are backed by the leaders of Iran, a key U.S. senator believes.
Senate Homeland Security committee chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said Iran has targeted the American financial system in response to U.S. sanctions placed on the country because of its nuclear program.
The Quds Force, a secretive Iran military unit blamed for terrorist activity, probably executed the cyber-attacks, he said.
"I don’t believe these were just hackers who were skilled enough … to cause a disruption of the websites ... of Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase," Lieberman said last week in an interview on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program.
"I think this was done by Iran and the Quds Force, which has its own developing cyber attack capacity," he continued. "And I believe it was in response to the increasingly strong economic sanctions that the United States and our European allies have put on Iranian financial institutions.”
A top Iranian official has denied involvement in the attacks.
"Iran has not hacked the U.S. banks," Gholam Reza Jalali, head of Iran's Civil Defense Organization, told the semiofficial Fars News Agency on Sunday.
Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, was observing Yom Kippur on Wednesday and was not available for comment.
Wells Fargo & Co. was the latest major U.S. bank to be hit by the attacks. The so-called denial of service attack, which floods a website with communications requests, caused disruptions Tuesday in the bank's online operations.
A group called Izz al-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters has claimed responsibility for the outages, which also have hit Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc.. and JPMorgan Chase & Co.
In a posting on Pastebin.com, the group said it would hit U.S. Bancorp on Wednesday and PNC Financial Services on Thursday.
Lieberman has been pushing legislation to try to beef up the network defenses of privately owned entities such as financial networks, electric utilities and chemical plants, amid warnings of vulnerabilities by top U.S. officials.
But business groups have opposed the new standards and last month the Senate failed to pass a watered-down version of the bill.
The recent cyber attacks on banks are "a powerful example of our vulnerability," Lieberman said.