Hackers say Wall Street traders are vulnerable

Black Hat convention in 2009.

BOB MOON: An annual hacker convention, known as Black Hat, is now in full swing in Las Vegas. Every year, thousands of hackers, security professionals, and researchers descend on the desert mecca, to show off their latest exploits.

As Marketplace's Steve Henn reports, one researcher plans to give a talk today outlining how easy it would be to hack high frequency trading operations on Wall Street.

STEVE HENN: High frequency traders by stocks low on one market and sell them for a fraction of a penny more on another.

JAMES ARLEN: The speed that we are talking about is insanely fast. You start thinking about fast things in your world and you think about things like blinking your eyes.

James Arlen at Push the Stack Consulting says these trades are ten times faster than that.

Computers make all the transactions. Micro-seconds are the difference between making a profit and getting hosed. So in the last few years traders have put their servers in the same secret building with the New York Stock Exchange computers -- and they've invested big time in building the fastest computers possible. What that means it they have stripped their trading software and hardware down to the bare bones. If these computers were cars there would be seat belts -- no roll bars. Minimal security -- hacking made easy.

ARLEN: Easy peasy.

And Arlen's convinced -- somewhere who has access to these trading networks is going to try.

In Las Vegas, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.


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