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Cyberattacks on banks signal urgent need for security bill, lawmakers say

A seven-month long assault on America's banking websites reached a new high recently, further proving that Congress needs to act quickly to pass cyber security legislation, the chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee told NBC News Wednesday.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., made the remarks to NBC News in response to an NBC News report which found that in the last six weeks, 15 of the nation's largest banks have been offline for a total of 249 hours because of "denial of service" cyber attacks.

National security officials told NBC News last fall that they believed Iran was behind the attacks, which has hurt bank sites including Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, PNC and as recently as this week, American Express. Initial reports then tied the attacks to a group calling itself Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters, which claimed responsibility in retaliation for the online video mocking the Prophet Muhammad.

"Based on my conversations with companies involved with defending against these attacks, I have no doubt that the Iranian government is behind them," Rogers said.

"These banks are among the best in the country when it comes to cyber security, but even they are having trouble keeping up with attacks that have the sophistication and the level of resources that a nation-state entity like Iran can devote to them," he said.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, told NBC News Wednesday that the FBI and "other law enforcement agencies are following up aggressively to identify the responsible parties" of the attacks.

"Our computer networks are the subject of daily assault by hostile hackers, both state sponsored and independent, who hope to obtain confidential information for economic gain, to test our defenses, or simply because they can," Schiff said. "Stories like this reinforce the need to focus on securing our networks from attack so that the next leak or attack isn't far worse."

Rogers, who is pushing for the passage of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, H.R.624, says that the federal government is "trying to share cyber threat information with these banks to help them get ahead of these attacks. Unfortunately, a series of policy and legal barriers are impeding that cooperation, as well as slowing down cooperation within the private sector and making it less effective."

Congress, he said, "needs to pass bipartisan information sharing legislation to knock down those barriers, so that American companies can protect their computer networks and the valuable intellectual property and personal customer information that resides on them."

Doug Johnson, the American Bankers Association's vice president of risk management policy, told NBC News that the attacks "have been intensifying since October and we expect them to continue. And we'll continue to fight them."

Johnson stressed that these attacks don't constitute hacking of information. "At the end of the day, these are disruptions of accounts ... not intrusions of accounts," he said. "No accounts have been compromised. These have purely been disruptions of our Internet banking platform ... So essentially, what you have are people knocking at the door and not getting in."

ā€” with additional reporting from NBC News' Tom Costello

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