SEC reveals 2016 breach that may have led to insider trading

Securities and Exchange Commission HQ in Washington, D.C. (Flickr user arsheffield)

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The Securities and Exchange Commission revealed Wednesday that a database housing detailed financial reports was breached last year.

SEC chairman Jay Clayton said in a statement that while the breach was detected last year, it wasn’t until last month that the SEC suspected the hackers used the compromised information for insider trading.

Clayton’s comments “underscore the daunting reality that the Securities and Exchange Commission and other entities that store nonpublic corporate information face,” said Marcus Christian, a former prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida. “They have imperfect security but must defend against persistent and sophisticated actors.”

The compromised database is known as EDGAR (Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval) and stores sensitive corporate disclosures that are not yet available to the public. That kind of information can give traders an unfair and illegal advantage if it is used for stock trading.

“Specifically, a software vulnerability in the test filing component of our EDGAR system, which was patched promptly after discovery, was exploited and resulted in access to nonpublic information,” the Clayton said.

The SEC doesn’t believe that the breach disrupted its operations or gave hackers access to personal information.

The revelation came in brief part of a statement released Wednesday about the commission’s cybersecurity policy. The statement did not give a reason why the breach wasn’t announced sooner.

“At this point, it is not clear how widespread hacking/trading schemes are, but concerns that they could undermine market confidence are growing,” Christian said. “The biggest threat to markets is likely not the crimes that we are seeing; the worry is that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg.”

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