U.S. securities regulators are investigating a group of hackers suspected of breaking into corporate email accounts to steal information to trade on, such as confidential details about mergers, according to people familiar with the matter.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has asked at least eight listed companies to provide details of their data breaches, one of the people said. The unusual move by the agency reflects increasing concerns about cyber attacks on U.S. companies and government agencies.
It is an "absolute first" for the SEC to approach companies about possible breaches in connection with an insider trading probe, said John Reed Stark, a former head of Internet enforcement at the SEC.
"The SEC is interested because failures in cybersecurity have prompted a dangerous, new method of unlawful insider trading," said Stark, now a private cybersecurity consultant.
According to people familiar with the matter, the SEC's inquiry and a parallel probe by the U.S. Secret Service - which investigates cyber crimes and financial fraud -- were spurred by a December report by security company FireEye Inc about a sophisticated hacking group that it dubbed "FIN4."
Since mid-2013, FIN4 has tried to hack into email accounts at more than 100 companies, looking for confidential information on mergers and other market-moving events. The targets include more than 60 listed companies in biotechnology and other healthcare-related fields, such as medical instruments, hospital equipment and drugs, according to the FireEye report.