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Cyber attack targets Illinois water system

Hackers are suspected of launching a cyber attack on the city water treatment system in Springfield, Illinois, reports said Monday.

Illinois water hack computer screen 11 21 2011Enlarge
The hackers apparently obtained remote access to the control system of a public water treatment plant. (Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images)

Hackers destroyed a pump at a water treatment plant in Springfield, Illinois, in a suspected cyber attack, the BBC reported Monday.

The incident, which took place on November 8, was revealed by computer security expert Joe Weiss, who referred on his blog to the official record of the attack.

Citing the Illinois Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center's report, he said hackers stole user names and passwords from a US company that writes software and used them to access the control system of a public water treatment plant.

They then powered the system on and off repeatedly, causing a water pump to burn out.

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The pump serves 2,200 customers, said the Daily Northwestern. Local officials said there were no service interruptions because multiple pumps run simultaneously.

The hack was detected while the pump was being repaired, but the intruders apparently had access to the plant control system for up to three months beforehand, according to the Intelligence Center's report.

Authorities traced the hackers' IP address to Russia, it said.

Weiss told Agence France Presse the suspected attack was the first of its kind:

"This is arguably the first case where we have had a hack of critical infrastructure from outside the United States that caused damage.

"That is what is so big about this. They could have done anything, because they had access to the master station."

A spokesperson for the Department for Homeland Security said DHS and the FBI were investigating the incident, but assured that there was no indication of any threat to public safety or infrastructure, CNN reported.

Security experts warn that the industrial control system software common to much essential infrastructure around the world, known as Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems, could allow hackers to make devastating attacks on power plants, factories, nuclear facilities and transport networks, the BBC said.

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