Having been responsible for the biggest flash crashes in recent years, it is no surprise that when it comes to the market’s growing structural vulnerabilities, high frequency traders have emerged as the primary authority on how to crash the market in the blink of an eye. Which is perhaps why none other than the Pentagon is seeking advice from HFTs on how hackers could “unleash chaos” in the US financial system.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Department of Defense’s research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as DARPA, has been consulting with executives at HFT firms and quant hedge funds as well as people from exchanges and other financial companies, over the past year and a half. Officials described the effort as an early-stage pilot project aimed at “identifying market vulnerabilities.” The WSJ notes that meeting participants described meetings as informal sessions in which attendees brainstorm about “how hackers might try to bring down U.S. markets, then rank the ideas by feasibility.”
Why approach HFTs? Because of all market participants, it is the “high freaks” who, better than anyone, know how to force a market crash at will. The WSJ was a bit more diplomatic:
High-speed traders and quant-fund managers, who use sophisticated computer programs to buy and sell stocks, sometimes in fractions of a second, form the core of the group. Such traders tend to have deep expertise in the inner workings of financial markets and the automated systems that account for huge swaths of trading activity today.
Among the potential scenarios probed by the Pentagon: Hackers could cripple a widely used payroll system; they could inject false information into stock-data feeds, sending trading algorithms out of whack; or they could flood the stock market with fake sell orders and trigger a market crash.
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