'Middle Eastern' Hackers Attempt To Hijack Functions Of US Energy Companies

grand central transformerGiant power transformers located seven stories below the main concourse in the power plant of Grand Central Terminal in New York

A series of recent attacks aimed at hijacking U.S. industrial systems and energy networks is making the Department of Homeland Security nervous.

David Sanger and Nicole Perlroth report in The New York Times today that two senior U.S. officials believe the attacks likely originate from the Middle East. Unlike Chinese-based attacks, the goal of these attacks is to sabotage U.S. systems — not simply to spy or steal proprietary secrets.

From the Times: 

By contrast, the new attacks seek to destroy data or to manipulate industrial machinery and take over or shut down the networks that deliver energy or run industrial processes. Two senior officials who have been briefed on the new intrusions say they were aimed largely at the administrative systems of about 10 major American energy firms, which they would not name.

The officials went on to describe to the Times the detection of “probes that suggest someone is looking at how to take control of these systems.” Gaining control of industrial systems in order to sabotage them is a trick the U.S. used to destroy Iranian nuclear reactors, but it’s also a trick the U.S. is still uniquely vulnerable to.

recent experiment by a company named Trend Micro showed just how juicy a target American energy infrastructure has become. In it, researchers set up vulnerable “dummy industrial systems” and connected them to the web.

Hackers attempted to gain access almost immediately.

Attackers were “were doing things that would change the water pressure, or temperature, or stop the flow on the water pump,” one Trend Micro employee told MIT Technology Review.

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