Imagine if someone like Lisbeth Salander, the computer hacker in the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, decided to poison New York's water supply or tried to turn off Washington's power grid. Would America be able to defend itself? The Obama administration isn't sure, so it's moving to beef up cybersecurity measures and to require companies to explain how they plan to defend against cyberattacks. But some conservatives are accusing Obama of trying to take over the internet.
And experts say the problem the White House is trying to address is real. Utility operators are increasingly connecting their control systems to the internet, explains Richard Bejtlich, the chief security officer at Mandiant, a company that offers cybersecurity services for Fortune 100 companies. These systems, which run things like temperature, grids, and valves, are then left open for hackers to exploit them by say, injecting malicious code and messing up the water supply.
"In some cases, operators don't even know they're connected until something bad happens," Bejtlich says. "And it's not getting any better; these operators are 10 years behind everyone else."