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Illinois water plant 'hack' was denied by FBI and DHS and later proved a false alarm

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A pump failure at an Illinois water plant was blamed on Russian hackers, but the FBI and DHS found no evidence to support a security breach. It was later discovered the "hack" was an authorized login from a man vacationing in Russia.

  • Joseph Parish

    Dec 2, 2011

    Joseph Parish

    Illinois water plant 'hack' was a false alarm

    Water Plant Hack
    Water Plant Hack

    Earlier this month, a pump failure at an Illinois water plant was blamed on Russian hackers, but the FBI and DHS found no evidence to support a security breach. Now Wired has dug into the case and found the whole hacking scare was much ado about nothing.

    The story starts with Jim Mimlitz, who helped set up the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems at the Illinois facility and occasionally provided technical support. While on vacation in Russia, he received a call on his cellphone seeking advice and logged in to examine some data records; he didn't tell the caller where he was.

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  • Dieter Bohn

    Nov 23, 2011

    Dieter Bohn

    FBI and DHS deny report that water plant was hacked

    Water Plant Hack
    Water Plant Hack

    Following a report last week that an Illinois water plant was hacked, both the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have issued a statement saying that the report was false. The report came from security expert Joe Weiss, who contended that the control system for the plant was compromised, equipment was damaged, and that the hack originated in Russia. At the time, the DHS and FBI confirmed that equipment was damaged, but would not confirm that it was a result of a hack. Today, they are denying it, according to a statement received by Jeffrey Carr:

    Weiss, meanwhile, maintains that his original report was based on information that came from the Illinois State Terrorism and Intelligence Center (STIC), and raises concerns that different government agencies are releasing conflicting reports on the incident. While those reports may be conflicting, there's a growing consensus that the industry isn't adequately prepared for a hacking attack.

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  • Dante D'Orazio

    Nov 19, 2011

    Dante D'Orazio

    Hackers attack Illinois water plant

    Water Plant Hack
    Water Plant Hack

    The control system at a Springfield, IL water system was hacked last week, according to a report from security expert Joe Weiss. Privy to a report concerning the attack, Weiss wrote in a blog post that the malicious code had been in the computer systems that control the water plant for at least two or three months. Plant workers noticed the equipment was acting up, and that it has recently been abnormally cycling on and off — causing a water pump to burn out. A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security confirmed damage at the facility, but the DHS and FBI say that they haven't yet confirmed a hack was the source of the failure — adding that there's nothing to confirm a "threat to public safety."

    Weiss said the hackers pulled usernames and passwords from the software vendor of the plant's control software, known as a SCADA system. Once the hackers gained access, they were able to exploit the computer systems to damage equipment. Weiss also claims that the hack originated from a computer in Russia. According to Wired, the attack marks the first exploitation of a SCADA system in the United States, and the first such attack since the Stuxnet virus in Iran last year. The hack raises quite a few concerns — depending on which SCADA vendor was compromised, the hackers may have access to more critical utilities as well.

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