Sunday, August 12, 2012

Dark Knight Rises Copycats?

It was expected that last month's shooting at the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises might inspire copycats.

Last weekend, an Ohio man was arrested after he brought a gun, ammo and knives into a screening of the movie.  He was seated in the center of the back row, with a large duffel bag (he may as well have worn a sign that said "sniper wanna-be").

But in a less violent case of life perhaps imitating art, one of the movie's odder subplots was eerily echoed at the beginning of August when a brokerage firm found itself the victim of rogue trades supposedly caused by a "glitch" in the firm's newly-installed software.  The brokerage made a large volume of bad bids, other brokerages exploited their errors, and the firm found itself nearly bankrupt in a day.  The broader market was not affected, seemingly, as share prices did not swing significantly.

(Spoiler Alert) - in the movie, the villains break into the stock exchange (literally), and install their own software to execute a high volume of trades, targeting just one firm (Wayne Enterprises) in order to wipe out most of its worth and allow a corporate takeover.  They do this to gain access to a particular corporate asset that they can weaponize.

I was surprised that the ExtremeTech article did not mention, while discussing the feasibility of breaking into the stock exchange, that it is not actually necessary to do so.  Plenty of brokerage firms with lesser security than the NYSE have the ability to execute high volumes of trades electronically, and the article's comments do point that out, but the commenters assume the market would stop trading and all erroneous trades would be reversed.

By the time I saw the movie, and by the time the article was posted, however, the debacle at a brokerage coincidentally named Knight Capital was in the news.  Their trades were not reversed, and the company barely survived with an emergency credit deal.

Of course, Knight Capital was not deliberately targeted (at least, not that anyone can tell).  There would be no real motive, except to make a bit of money at their expense on the day of the software disaster, and I believe those profits were split among many firms.  It's not like Knight had a coveted corporate asset that they would not sell unless they were in dire straits.  Then again, maybe they did.

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