Bank of England seeks investigation into hacked audio feed of briefings

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The Bank of England — REUTERS

THE BANK of England (BoE) asked regulators to investigate how an audio broadcast of some of its press conferences was misused to potentially give traders an unfair advantage.

It barred the third-party supplier of the feed from its press conferences and referred the issue to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

A faster audio could give some traders an edge on words spoken by BoE Governor Mark Carney, which can move the price of the pound or UK gilts.

The discovery was made after concerns were raised with the bank. The FCA said it’s looking at the issue.

“This wholly unacceptable use of the audio feed was without the bank’s knowledge or consent,” the BoE said. “On identifying this, the bank immediately disabled the third-party supplier’s access.”

Central bank announcements are among the most market-sensitive of any news releases, with major monetary authorities employing tight arrangements for how their information is released. The feed issue didn’t affect the security of that information.

“The bank operates the highest standards of information security around the release of the market sensitive decisions of its policy committees,” it said. “The issue identified related only to the broadcast of press conferences that follow such statements.”

The scandal relates to the BoE’s set-piece press conferences after some monetary policy decisions. The events start with a statement from the governor, who then takes questions from assembled journalists. The proceedings are broadcast, with the video managed by Bloomberg and made available to other news providers.

The audio feed involved was a intended only as a backup in case the video failed. The BoE said the supplier that sold it on won’t play any part in future press conferences.

The news was reported earlier by the Times of London. In an age of quantitative investing, where billions of dollars are run by black-box algorithms and high frequency traders, a few seconds’ lead on market-moving information provides a vital leg up.

PAST LEAKS
While information breaches are rare for central banks, they are treated seriously when they occur.

The European Central Bank took action this year to ensure the audio from its press conferences couldn’t be sold on by providing its own fast feed for free via its website.

In the US, Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker resigned in 2017 after he disclosed his role in the leak of information about policy options that the central bank was considering in 2012. — Bloomberg

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