If true, this is probably the scariest story you’ll read all week: Thousands of homes in Illinois had their water shut off by hackers in Russia. The BBC reports:
Hackers are alleged to have destroyed a pump used to pipe water to thousands of homes in a US city in Illinois…The net address through which the attack was carried out was traced to Russia…Experts said the news revealed a growing interest in critical infrastructure by cyber criminals…The attacks are the latest in a series in which different hackers and groups have targeted so called Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems. These specialised computer systems are used to control machinery used to filter water, mix chemicals, distribute power and route trains and trams.
If hackers, or governments, could control vital infrastructure like water systems, electricity, or heating, they could wreak havoc on life as we know it. The hacker supposedly responsible for the Illinois situation doesn’t even seem particularly bright or dangerous, but he (or she) allegedly hacked a second water control system in South Houston using only a three-character password. Pardon the intrusion of editorial sentiment, but this is not good.Governments will be seeking to acquire both offensive and defensive cybercapacities to ward off and to inflict damage on their opponents. I would not be surprised to see cybercrime and cyberterror to appear; why fly an airplane into a building when you can hack an air traffic control system?Cyber/virtual warfare is a game changer. Earlier this year the 24,000 files were stolen in a cyber breach at the Pentagon. Google has been hacked; German-made hardware used in Iran’s nuclear program was sabotaged by computer viruses. America’s defense establishment is under prepared, and Americans themselves are vulnerable.America used to be oceans away from foreign assault. Those barriers shrank in World War Two and shrank further with the development of ICBMs. Now, with cyberterror and cyberwar capacities growing, the old distinction between the protected space of domestic life and the zone of international conflict continues to blur.Protecting our liberty and our security is going to get tougher in the age of the internet. That is a long way from the idyllic vision many internet pioneers had of what a wired world would look like, but it is the reality we and our children will face.UPDATE: Thanks to alert reader Ken Moore, we can now inform readers that the FBI says that the utility company appears to have publicized misleading preliminary information; the FBI believes no foreign hackers were involved. “If true,” we said at the beginning of the story. It wasn’t. See Mr. Moore’s comment below for a link to an account of the FBI conclusions.Even so, the dangers on the net are real.