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Cyber attack on U.S. water plant highlights need for smart grid cybersecurity

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Friday, November 18, 2011

A foreign attacker hacked its way into a public water control plant in Illinois, in what is being reported as the first intentional attack on critical infrastructure in the U.S.

According to the Washington Post, a city worker at the Illinois plant reported the city's water pump control system was malfunctioning, leading a computer technician to determine the entire system had been compromised remotely by a hacker in Russia.

Joe Weiss, an industry security expert, attained a copy of the report that detailed the malicious cyber attack.

"This is a big deal," he told the news source, adding that at the current time, it is unknown how many systems were affected.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the report, titled "Public Water District Cyber Intrusion," listed details on the attack, and how it resulted in the "burnout of a water pump."

However, the Department of Homeland Security says that although a waterplant in Springfield, Illinois, has confirmed damage, there is no overwhelming evidence that a cyber attacker is the culprit.

"DHS and the FBI are gathering facts surrounding the report of a water pump failure in Springfield, Illinois," DHS spokesman Peter Boogaard said. "At this time there is no credible corroborated data that indicates a risk to critical infrastructure entities or a threat to public safety."

Dave Marcus, director of security research for McAfee Labs, told the Washington Post that many critical assets within the United States are controlled by computers that are highly vulnerable to remote attacks, as the growing use of remote access in critical infrastructure has caught many systems operators off guard, showing they are "ill-prepared for cyber attacks."

Companies and utilities looking to enter into the smart grid, which is said to be largely wireless and vulnerable to attack, are now looking to solutions providers to integrate new technologies with existing devices. But in order for these updates to remain secure, they will need to follow stringent standards established by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation's critical infrastructure protection requirements.

SUBNET helps utilities meet these standards, and offers expertise in remote access that ensures safe operations.

The Illinois water plant incident, which was determined to have been going on for months, indicates utilities and companies will need maximum protection from online foreign predators as the smart grid continues to develop.

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