Incident at Illinois Water Plant Must Serve as Wake-up Call

Sue Marquette Poremba
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Talk about a major "oops" moment.


A few weeks ago, the cybersecurity world was talking about the alleged hack into an Illinois water plant - a hack attributed to Russia - and followed up with stories from a hacker who pointed out just how easy it would be to hack into the American utility infrastructure. The story that caused all the concern came from someone posting an intelligence memo on his website.


Now, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is holding up the stop sign on the story, saying that a Russian hack on this water system didn't happen. What was the problem? As Wired so clearly put it:

In truth, the water pump simply burned out, as pumps are wont to do, and a government-funded intelligence center incorrectly linked the failure to an Internet connection from a Russian IP address months earlier.

And, it appears a single phone call to the contractor with that Russian IP address could have cleared up any misconceptions quickly.


That's the good news.


Of course, now there is a lot of blame and finger-pointing going on as to who created this flawed report and why was it released and who was involved. Yes, it looks like there was some sloppy behind-the-scenes behavior going on in this whole drama.



But let's be honest here - this story needs to be a wake-up call. If the current version of the incident is true, it now looks like the Illinois water plant wasn't hacked at all. But it could have been. I think we need to focus on the overall reaction the initial report caused. The American infrastructure is vulnerable. Because this incident could be explained doesn't make the vulnerabilities disappear.


The Wired story is titled "Comedy of Errors Led to False Water-Pump Hack' Report" and maybe that's exactly what it was. It seemed like a lot of people jumped to conclusions without all the details at hand.


But I worry now that this story will disappear like most stories do, and the assumption will be "see, we're still okay, nothing happened." No, nothing happened now, but something could, unless cybersecurity at the nation's utilities become a higher priority.



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