Cybersecurity expert: Be afraid, America. Be very afraid.

I’m talking about seizing control of industrial control systems. These ubiquitous hidden computers have gradually and quietly been put in charge of all manner of critical infrastructure—including nuclear power plants, the grid, water and gas pipelines, refineries, air traffic control, trains, factories, you name it. 

Unlike the computers we use in our daily lives, these computers are largely invisible. They don’t have screens or keyboards. Most people aren’t aware that they exist. And yet they are embedded in low-level processes. They are everywhere because they create tremendous efficiencies and cost savings, and because they exist almost as an afterthought, they are often completely insecure. They often don’t run anti-virus software and by and large no one bothers to scan them to see if they might be infected with malicious software. And guess what? They often are connected to the Internet where a clever hacker half a world away can get access to them!

The threat is not hypothetical. There have been almost 750 control system cyber events (including both malicious and unintentional incidents). They’ve had a global impact. Industries have included power companies, pipelines, dams, planes, and trains. Why hasn’t the public heard about them? Most often because the victims didn’t realize it since they didn’t have the right forensics.