How hackers could annihilate US utilities and unleash havoc on infrastructure

Wednesday, May 29, 2013
By Paul Martin

A cyber war attack on a city’s critical infrastructure could be devastating, and surprisingly easy to launch.

Jeb Boone
May 22, 2013

ATLANTA, Georgia — It’s a new breed of warfare, unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

It can threaten a nation’s core security, cause mass casualties and weaken the economy, according to the Government Accountability Office, the US Congress’ research arm.

Assailants “could gain control of critical switches and derail passenger trains, or trains loaded with lethal chemicals. … They could contaminate the water supply in major cities,” then-US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last October. Foes could take down electric or water systems, fomenting public panic, reaping high death tolls and causing high physical and economic costs.

It might not even be immediately clear who was behind the attack, or where it was coming from. This devastating power could be wielded with comparatively few operatives, or without the support of a national government. And the massive kinetic strength of the US military would be essentially helpless in thwarting it.

For more than two decades, internet-based attacks have been relatively infrequent and mostly low level. Now, many experts caution that the specter of cataclysmic cyber war is upon us.

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