Christie's response to cyber attack underscores the fine art of resilience

Auctioneer at Christie's shows impressionist painting
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Fine art auctioneer Christie’s has confirmed it was forced to take its website offline after what it described as a technology issue had affected some systems.

A temporary site was set up which the main Christie’s web page redirects to and has a message to customers apologizing for the inconvenience, but provides no further detail on the cause of the attack, or the status of the remediation process.

The attack comes just days before a series of major events held at the auction house, which were expected to net Christie’s an estimated $840 million.

According to reporting in the New York Times, two auction house employees and senior leaders at Christie's are staying tight-lipped about details of the incident and reported a general atmosphere of panic at the company.

For instance, they stated that employee concerns around whether potential hackers were able to access their personal information, or that of Christie’s customers, have not been addressed.

A spokesperson for Christie’s told ITPro the auction house “experienced a technology security incident early Thursday, and moved quickly to respond and manage the issue”, but did not confirm whether the incident was the result of a cyber attack.

The statement added that Christie’s senior team have brought in an external expert to resolve the issue, confirming it shut down some systems to help with the remediation process.

“Our executive team, working with a team of internal and external technology experts, are taking all action to resolve this matter as quickly as possible.  Christie’s proactively took down some of our systems, including to facilitate the work of the IT teams”.

“We have communicated to our clients and are keeping them informed. Our focus remains on minimizing disruption to them.”

The auction house was still able to host a charity luxury watch auction in Geneva on Friday 10 May, which was previously postponed from 2023, with bidders able to participate in person or via telephone

Christie’s told ITPro the live auctions planned for the week beginning 12 May are still going ahead as scheduled, and have already designed a new website environment to host content for the auctions.

Christie's incident isn't isolated

Speaking to ITPro, Jamie Boote, associate principal consultant at Synopsys, said cyber attacks targeting auctions have been a fairly common feature of the threat landscape over recent years, with an entire class of attacks dedicated to help hackers win online auctions hosted on eBay.

“Anywhere there is money somewhere on the internet, attackers have been exploiting vulnerabilities to their benefit. This is far from the first auction related attack. There’s even a class of exploits known as “eBay Attacks” where attackers used to exploit the 5-minute account lock-out to freeze out other bidders from raising the prices on goods they wanted to win,” he explained.

"It’s important to remember that there’s a trio of security concerns in cyber security – Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability - instead of just focusing on an attacker’s abilities to change system behavior or steal secrets. In this case, availability could have a real-world impact on the prices of those auction items.”


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Improve your cyber resilience

Erfan Shadabi, cyber security expert at comforte AG, added that this incident underscores the need for businesses to implement more robust data-centric security practices to ensure sensitive information stays protected in the event of a breach.

“What we learn from such incidents is the paramount importance of protecting organizational data. In response to the attack, Christie's has activated its well-established protocols and set up an alternative website to provide basic information about the auction items. However, these measures highlight the need for more robust data-centric security practices,” he argued.

Solomon Klappholz
Staff Writer

Solomon Klappholz is a Staff Writer at ITPro. He has experience writing about the technologies that facilitate industrial manufacturing which led to him developing a particular interest in IT regulation, industrial infrastructure applications, and machine learning.