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Expert Says State Needs To Fix Cyber-Security Holes In Utilities

A local cyber-security expert is calling on the state to find out how many cities have essential utility and fuel delivery systems connected to the internet. This comes after Russian hackers used the internet to damage a pump at a water supply plant in Illinois. Another hacker found a potential vulnerability at a sewage plant 'much' closer to home.

Last week, a hacker by the name of ‘prOf’ used the Internet to gain access to the city of South Houston’s sewage treatment plant.  The hacker says he, or she, was inspired by the claim from the Department of Homeland Security that there was no widespread risk to public safety after Russian hackers damaged a pump at the water treatment plant in Springfield, Illinois.   The hacker of the South Houston sewage plant posted plant diagrams, but did not cause any damage, according to the city. 

“In this case, this person decided they wanted to prove the point that this type of infrastructure is vulnerable.  And this person did so.”

That’s Chris Bronk.  He’s a fellow in technology at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.  He says the city of South Houston was absolutely right to disconnect computer systems controlling water and sewage from the Internet.  Bronk says what needs to happen now is a statewide audit of all utilities. 

“It would be very nice to know exactly what municipalities across the state of Texas, in water alone, have systems that face the Internet — and what we can do to mitigate that vulnerability.”

Bronk says it would be worthwhile for authorities to track down the hacker who gained access to South Houston’s sewage treatment system.  Not to prosecute the person, but to find out exactly how he or she got in as a way to keep other would-be hackers out.

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David Pitman

David Pitman

Host, Morning Edition

Hi there. I’m glad you found me. Let me take a moment to answer some of the questions you might have about me and my job. I have worked as Morning Edition Host and reporter at News 88.7 since August of 2009. Previously, I hosted Morning Edition at WMFE in...

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