Cyber Attack Disrupted $578 Million Worth of Art Auctions at Christie’s

by | May 20, 2024

Christie’s, one of the world’s major auction houses dealing in the fine arts, underwent a cyber attack last week that has left more questions than answers at this point. While the incident was not bad enough to put a stop to $578 million worth of art auctions, one of the busiest weeks of the year in the art collection world, it is still not clear exactly how much damage was done (if any) in terms of data loss.

Fallout from Christie’s cyber attack still unknown

Thus far, the known extent of the cyber attack damage is disruption to art auctions and some website shutdowns that lasted several days. There has not yet been any comment on impact to data, however.

Christie’s did not have to cancel any art auctions during its busy period, but did have to push at least one back a day as it scrambled to work around reduced online functionality. The group’s website was offline entirely for several days, and at this point has been restored but is not yet fully functional again; the ability to browse auction items had to be farmed out to a secondary site created for the purpose.

Clients have reason to be worried, as they provide Christie’s with payment information when buying or selling pieces and might also have the location of valuables revealed. Thus far it is unknown if any of this was exposed by the cyber attack, but there have been previous incidents of this nature that involved the performing arts and museums.

The arts are not generally seen as a priority or popular target for hackers, but the disruptions of the Christie’s art auctions should demonstrate why cybersecurity still needs to be front of mind for these organizations. All types of auctions are already routinely targeted by bots and other “sniping” tools used to manipulate things in the favor of an unscrupulous bidder, and it is possible that price reduction was the goal of this cyber attack.

Some art auctions suffer slight delay, but bids continue

Bidding had to be done by phone or in person for a time, and Christie’s had to set up a secondary website to restore some function, but the art auctions did continue as scheduled. The organization considered this vital as it makes about half of its annual income from this week of modern art auctions, where bids are often in the millions of dollars.

But while the art auctions mostly came off without a hitch, clients are being left in suspense about any potential data leaks from the cyber attack. The incident appears to have begun on May 9 and the Christie’s website was out of service until May 12, which also saw the first official communication with the public about the incident. Chief executive Guillaume Cerutti only described the incident as a “technology security issue” and did not provide further detail.

Speculation is thus circulating, and ransomware is a fair assumption given the extended website downtime. That would also imply possible data extortion, though there is no word from the dark web about that just yet.

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