Russian hackers breach water system in central Illinois

Marshall Cohen

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The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security revealed Friday they are looking into an apparent cyber attack that shut down a water pump near Springfield earlier this month.

Reuters reported the Nov. 8 cyber attack originated from Russia and the hackers repeatedly switched the pump on and off, resulting in a burnout and shutdown.

Experts consider the incident to be the first of its kind – a successful cyber attack by foreign hackers targeting an industrial facility inside the United States.

“This is arguably the first case where we have had a hack of critical infrastructure from outside the United States that caused damage,” cyber security expert Joseph Weiss told Agence France-Presse.

The water pump serves 2200 customers in the Curran-Gardner Township Public Water District, a rural area west of Springfield. Local officials said there were no service interruptions because multiple pumps run simultaneously.

Patti Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, told The Daily on Sunday her agency has prepared for cyber attacks in the past but was not involved in the response to this particular incident.

“We have done cyber attack exercises in the past to help us practice our plans for those type of events,” Thompson said. “Depending on what gets attacks it might warrant different responses and we’ve worked on a couple different scenarios and how we would respond to different type of emergencies.”

IEMA regularly handles natural disaster response and coordinates emergency response efforts with the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Illinois State Police and the FBI.

“We coordinate efforts so no agencies are working in a vacuum,” Thompson said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency controls the national response to disasters, including possible cyber attacks. FEMA spokesman Mark Peterson told The Daily on Sunday his agency plans to follow established protocols.

“Generally we follow the national response framework for any type of incident,” Peterson said.

The investigation of the Illinois incident is still in the fact-gathering stage, according to an email sent to Reuters by Department of Homeland Security spokesman Peter Boogaard.

“At this time there is no credible corroborated data that indicates a risk to critical infrastructure entities or a threat to public safety,” he said.

mc2014@u.northwestern.edu

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