Reuters

A recent hacking scare at an Illinois water district should have cities taking notice

It's still not clear whether infrastructure hackers were behind the recent failure of a water pump near Springfield, Illinois. A pump in the Curran-Gardner Townships Public Water District stopped working after what initially appeared to have been an attack on the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition System computers that monitor and control the city’s infrastructure. On November 8, after the systems had seemingly been turned off and on repeatedly, the water pump failed, according to a leaked report, “Public Water District Cyber Intrusion,” compiled by the Illinois Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center.

The Threat Level blog over at Wired ran a provocative rundown of that initial report, which suggests that hackers with Russian-based IP addresses finagled their way into the water district’s system, also potentially accessing other user information.

The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, however, are disputing those claims. The Illinois report was based on unconfirmed and raw data, federal officials argued in a statement released last week:

There is no evidence to support claims made in the initial Fusion Center report — which was based on raw, unconfirmed data and subsequently leaked to the media — that any credentials were stolen, or that the vendor was involved in any malicious activity that led to a pump failure at the water plant. In addition, DHS and FBI have concluded that there was no malicious traffic from Russia or any foreign entities, as previously reported.

Whatever the reality in this case, the mere idea of a water system like this being hacked raises serious concerns for cities and infrastructure managers. More and more utilities are relying on Internet-connected computer monitoring systems to control their infrastructure, which is bringing efficiency and precision to systems like electricity distribution and flood control. These computerized systems can help cities and utilities better serve customers and save money, but they're also vulnerable. Preventing determined hackers from gaining access to public utility systems may never be completely possible, but making it a lot more difficult, being vigilant and watching out for attacks is. Shoring up security protocols, reacting quickly to attacks and stopping damage when things get hacked can be expected to become increasingly crucial.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Life

    Suburban Jobs Are Growing Fastest, But Urban Jobs Pay More

    New labor data show that the suburbs have the fastest job growth in the U.S. But we shouldn’t assume the future of employment will be suburban.

  2. A sign outside a storefront in Buffalo, New York.
    Environment

    Will Buffalo Become a Climate Change Haven?

    The Western New York city possesses a distinct mix of weather, geography, and infrastructure that could make it a potential climate haven. But for whom?

  3. photo: a commuter looks at a small map of the London Tube in 2009
    Maps

    Help! The London Tube Map Is Out of Control.

    It’s never been easy to design a map of the city’s underground transit network. But soon, critics say, legibility concerns will demand a new look.

  4. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

  5. photo: A vacant home in Oakland that is about to demolished for an apartment complex.
    Equity

    Fix California’s Housing Crisis, Activists Say. But Which One?

    As a controversy over vacancy in the Bay Area and Los Angeles reveals, advocates disagree about what kind of housing should be built, and where.

×