Researcher uncovers cyber attack on Illinois water system

Federal investigators are looking into a report that hackers managed to remotely shut down a utility’s water pump in central Illinois last week, in what could be the first known foreign cyber attack on a U.S. industrial system.

The Nov. 8 incident was described in a one-page report from the Illinois Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center, according to Joe Weiss, a prominent expert on protecting infrastructure from cyber attacks.

The attackers obtained access to the network of a water utility in a rural community west of the state capital Springfield with credentials stolen from a company that makes software used to control industrial systems, according to the account obtained by Weiss. It did not explain the motive of the attackers.

In 2007, researchers at the U.S. government’s Idaho National Laboratories identified a vulnerability in the electric grid, demonstrating how much damage a cyber attack could inflict on a large diesel generator. (To see video that was leaked to CNN: here)

Lani Kass, who retired in September as senior policy adviser to the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the United States should take the possibility of a cyber attack seriously.

“The going in hypothesis is always that it’s just an incident or coincidence. And if every incident is seen in isolation, it’s hard — if not impossible — to discern a pattern or connect the dots,” Kass told Reuters.

“Failure to connect the dots led us to be surprised on 9/11,” she said, describing the Sept. 11, 2001 hijacking attacks as a prime example in which authorities dismissed indicators of an impending disaster and were caught unaware.

From Reuters: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/11/19/cybersecurity-attack-idUSN1E7AH1QU20111119

Picture from kiwicommoms.com

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