Hackers based in Iran sought to infiltrate the control system of a hydroelectric dam in New York State in 2013. According to the Wall Street Journal, in the previously undisclosed incident, the hackers were not able to seize control but were probing the dam’s defenses. When Iranian hackers tried to hack into a larger facility in Oregon, the White House was alerted.
 
Hackers based in China, Iran, and China are continuously testing critical infrastructure in the U.S. in order to seek its vulnerabilities. In 2014, National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers told Congress that China and “one or two” other countries have the capability of shutting down elements of the U.S. infrastructure via cyber-attacks. Iran may be one of the countries seeking U.S. vulnerabilities. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in fiscal year 2015, responded to 295 hacking incidents related to industrial controls. This was a spike from 2014, which saw 245. Should the hackers seek to deliberate attack an electrical system, the cost could be catastrophic. For example, a blackout in 15 states and Washington, D.C., could cost the American economy hundreds of billions, raise mortality rates at hospitals and sever the national water supply.
 
Much of the technology that governs industrial systems is outmoded and are connected directly to at-risk office networks. This leads experts to conclude that utilities are not prepared to face attacks. Currently, there are approximately 57,000 industrial-control systems connected to the Internet in the U.S. Federal officials have issued numerous public warnings to utilities that networks are at risk. For example, a top DHS official recently told energy executives at a conference that the Islamic State “is beginning to perpetrate cyberattacks.”
 
Currently, experts assert that cyber intrusions fall into three categories:
 
a) hacks that are intended to damage infrastructure;
 
b) traditional intelligence gathering by nation states and other actors;
 
c) corporate espionage.
 
Some members of Congress want to see basic standards that would govern how the United States should cope with various sorts of incidents. For example, Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) said at a House Intelligence Committee hearing in September “We don’t know what constitutes an act of war, what the appropriate response is, what the line is between crime and warfare.” 

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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