Cyber hackers attacked public utility’s control system

(CNN) – Cyber attacks and hackers could pose a potentially huge risk to American infrastructure, and a recent attack came a little too close for comfort.

In a U.S. government exercise, an electrical generator’s motor self-destructs, triggered by a cyber attack.

But what happened recently to an American public utility was real.

Hackers successfully breached a utility’s computer network.

The Department of Homeland Security won’t identify the company or the type of utility.

Experts say it could have been a water-treatment plant, a gas pipeline, or a power station.

What could they have knocked out?

“When you look at this particular utility, multiply that by many orders of magnitude and, yes, have you taken a substation out, which we don’t have here, that would have massive disruption in a community and potentially in a much broader region,” Frank Cilluffo, Cybersecurity Initiative Director at George Washington University said.

An official tells us the Department of Homeland Security worked with the company to repel the hack and no operations were disrupted.

Officials won’t say who they think the hackers were.

But its the type of threat that can wreak havoc on a country.

A massive power-outage was depicted in “American Blackout”: a recent drama on the National Geographic Channel.

“I mean the sugar daddy of all, the most critical of our critical infrastructure, is electric, and energy and our grid. Because everything else to one extent or another, is dependent upon that,” Cilluffo said.

Like water, sewage, and telecommunications.

Last year a power substation in Silicon Valley was targeted, but not by hackers. Snipers blasted away at that facility.

They still haven’t been caught.

Security expert Frank Cilluffo says America’s enemies have mapped its infrastructure for cyber attack.

Rival governments have that capability, and terrorists can develop it, with some help.

“My biggest concern is actually an insider threat: someone who works for a particular company and then can share information with those on the outside to get more precise in their targeting,” Cilluffo said.

Cilluffo says the government can’t stop all these attacks, but can give private companies intelligence to help fend them off.

But hackers won’t stop trying.

Homeland security officials say last year, they responded to 256 ‘cyber-incident’ reports, more than half of them in the energy sector.

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