US Homeland Security tries to shore up nation's cyber defenses

Posted in: Legal & Security at 02/10/2011 18:23

Screens glowed, mice clicked and lines of code scrolled on the laptop monitors of a hacker team hired by Barney Advanced Domestic Chemical Co. -- or BAD Company -- to break into a rival firm's computer network.

In another room here at Idaho National Laboratory, a computer operator noticed something wrong. "They're hitting one of our servers!" he said. The lights in the control room soon failed, and liquid gushed from a set of tanks as green and red lights flashed.

"We've got a spillover!" shouted the supervisor. "Call the hazmat team!"

This frantic but entirely simulated attack last week on a chemical plant demonstrated what U.S. officials and industry experts say is a little-understood national and economic security threat: the ability of malicious computer code to cripple critical systems that millions of people rely on for food, fuel, safe water and more.

"We're connecting equipment that has never been connected before to this global network," said Greg Schaffer, acting deputy undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security's National Protection and Programs Directorate. "As we do, we have the potential for problems. That, indeed, is a space our adversaries are paying attention to. They are knocking on the doors of these systems. In some cases, there have been intrusions."

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