AOH :: ISN-3212.HTM

Hackers break into water system network

Hackers break into water system network
Hackers break into water system network 

By Robert McMillan
IDG News Service

An infected laptop gave hackers access to computer systems at a 
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, water treatment plant earlier this month.

The plant's systems were accessed in early October after an employee's 
laptop computer was compromised via the Internet, and then used as an 
entry point to install a computer virus and spyware on the plant's 
computer system, according to a report by ABC News.

The incident is under investigation by the U.S. Federal Bureau of 
Investigation, but no arrests have been made in the matter, said Special 
Agent Jerri Williams of the FBI's Philadelphia office. The attackers are 
believed to have been operating outside of the U.S.

Williams said that the hackers do not appear to have targeted the plant. 
"We did not believe that they were doing it to compromise the actual 
water system, but just to use the computer as a resource for 
distributing e-mails or whatever electronic information they had 
planned," she said.

Still, the FBI is concerned that even without targeting the system 
itself, this malicious software could have interfered with the plant's 
operations, Williams said.

Had the breach targeted the water plant, it could have had grave 
consequences, according to Mike Snyder, security coordinator for the 
Pennsylvania section of the American Water Works Association. "It's a 
serious situation because they could possibly raise the level of 
chlorine being injected into the water... which would make the water 
dangerous to drink."

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, computer security at 
U.S. water systems was beefed up, but water systems may still be tied to 
administrative networks that are connected to the Internet, Snyder said. 
"Sometimes if a hacker is pretty good, he can get into the computer via 
the administrative network," he said.

In the Harrisburg case, a laptop computer was apparently the source of 
the intrusion. Synder said that laptops are used in the industry because 
water systems often have many different locations that need to be 
monitored. "Because of the way the water systems work, it is convenient 
to be able to use a laptop to check tank levels."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency knows of no other similar 
incidents occurring in the region, said Rick Rogers, the chief of the 
agency's drinking water branch for the mid-Atlantic region.

Rogers was not able to comment directly on the matter, since the breach 
is under investigation. "We are looking into it and working with the 
state and the water utility industry," he said. "But it is a concern 
that somebody was able to get into a system like this."

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