Included in Ventura County Treasurer Steven Hintz's email warning that the county's website had been hacked was this phrase:
We think the real scam (if this is more than a simple attempt to produce chaos) will begin with a follow-up email seeking personal information to correct some mistake in the records.
While all signs indicate that this is a run-of-the-mill phishing scheme, in which hackers attempt to trick victims into providing sensitive information, we should keep in mind that entities in foreign countries are interested in probing American websites for vulnerabilities in preparation for a potential cyber attacks. It's a virtual certainty that's not the case here, but, generally speaking, governments and companies should be aware of the cyber danger posed by our enemies abroad.
Monday, the Los Angeles Times concluded that a virtual war was a real threat. In a feature article, it described how lax security standards by county water employees allowed a white-hat hacker to break into the system.
The weak link: County employees had been logging into the network through their home computers, leaving a gaping security hole. Officials of the urban water system told Maiffret that with a few mouse clicks, he could have rendered the water undrinkable for millions of homes.
What else is vulnerable? Everything.
The weaknesses that he found in California exist in crucial facilities nationwide, U.S. officials and private experts say.
The same industrial control systems Maiffret's team was able to commandeer also run electrical grids, pipelines, chemical plants and other infrastructure. Those systems, many designed without security in mind, are vulnerable to cyber attacks that have the potential to blow up city blocks, erase bank data, crash planes and cut power to large sections of the country.
While Al Queda doesn't seem to have the capability to pull off such an attack, China and Russia do, according to the Times.
A 2007 article from The Times of UK noted that "China's cyber army is preparing to march on America."
Chinese military hackers have prepared a detailed plan to disable America's aircraft battle carrier fleet with a devastating cyber attack, according to a Pentagon report obtained by The Times.
The article stated that China's intent is to achieve "electronic dominance" over each of its global rivals.
For 18 minutes in April, China's state-controlled telecommunications company hijacked 15 percent of the world's Internet traffic, including data from U.S. military, civilian organizations and those of other U.S. allies.
Look at the chaos produced by last year's "fat finger" that caused the Dow to drop 1,000 points. Imagine if a hacker was able to duplicate that. The chaos it would generate would be enough to throw us off our footing and put us at a serious disadvantage for any military engagements. Back to the LA Times article:
CIA Director Leon E. Panetta told Congress recently that he worried about a cyber Pearl Harbor. Yet many who follow the issue believe that's what it will take to force Americans to awaken to the threat.