Celebrity Hacking Claims Probed as Obama Voices Concern

President Barack Obama expressed concern about computer hacking as U.S. law enforcement agencies began probing the posting of purported financial information of celebrities, government officials and First Lady Michelle Obama.

“We should not be surprised that if you’ve got hackers who want to dig in and devote a lot of resources, that they can access people’s private information,” Obama said in excerpts of an interview with ABC News released yesterday. While underscoring his dismay, he wouldn’t confirm details of the probe, including whether the hacking reached the White House.

The apparent data breach comes amid rising concern that the nation’s computer networks are vulnerable to hackers bent on stealing personal information and corporate secrets or interrupting vital industries such as energy, banking or transportation. An attack yesterday blocked JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Chase.com website, said Michael Fusco, a spokesman.

Obama is scheduled to discuss cybersecurity with corporate executives today in the White House Situation Room. The meeting will cover recent steps taken to deal with hacking risks, including an order Obama issued Feb. 12 directing the government to share more cyber-threat data with companies and develop voluntary security standards for critical infrastructure, such as power grids.

The nation’s top intelligence official told U.S. lawmakers yesterday that the risk of hackers causing significant disruption to essential services ranks as the intelligence community’s top concern, ahead of terrorism, in an annual worldwide threat assessment.

‘Significant Outcomes’

While damage from such an intrusion would probably be limited, “there is a risk that unsophisticated attacks would have significant outcomes due to unexpected system configurations and mistakes,” James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said in the assessment presented to the Senate intelligence committee.

JPMorgan, the largest U.S. bank, was hit with a denial-of-service cyber attack that kept customers from banking online through the Chase.com website, Fusco said. He said that no customer data had been affected and the bank was working to restore the site to working order.

A group calling itself Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters took responsibility for similar attacks on U.S. banks in December, saying they were responding to a video on Google Inc.’s YouTube.com ridiculing Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. Denial-of-service attacks flood Internet sites with traffic, blocking access. The group said in an online posting yesterday it would keep trying to disrupt banks, naming eight others as targets.

Celebrity Reports

Carl Herberger, a vice president for the network security firm Radware Ltd. in Tel-Aviv, said multiple banks were under attack. He declined to say which ones.

Experian Plc, Equifax Inc. and TransUnion Corp., the three biggest U.S. consumer credit-reporting companies, said they had uncovered cases where hackers gained illegal, unauthorized access to users’ information.

Credit reports said to be about famous people ranging from Michelle Obama to Paris Hilton, were posted online. TransUnion said those responsible used “considerable amounts” of personal information including social-security numbers to impersonate victims and gain access to their credit history.

The Secret Service has opened an investigation into the matter involving the first lady, said Brian Leary, a spokesman for the agency. He declined to comment further on the probe.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into the posting of the alleged personal financial documents that hackers said belonged to celebrities and government officials, Jenny Shearer, an agency spokeswoman, said by e-mail.

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