WASHINGTON — The government warned Thursday of a heightened risk of a cyberattack that could disrupt the control systems of U.S. companies providing critical services such as electricity and water.
Officials are highly concerned about "increasing hostility" against "U.S. critical infrastructure organizations," according to the warning, which was released by the Department of Homeland Security on a computer network accessible only to authorized industry and government users. "Adversary intent extends beyond intellectual property theft to include the use of cyber to disrupt . . . control processes."
Senior U.S. officials have warned in recent months that foreign adversaries are probing computer systems that operate chemical, electric and water plants. But officials are also increasingly concerned about the threat of a potentially destructive cyberattack.
Such attacks are rare. Last summer, more than 30,000 computers at the state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco were destroyed when a virus wiped data from the hard drives. The same virus also damaged computer systems at Ras Gas, an energy company in Qatar.
U.S. intelligence officials have said they think those attacks were linked to the Iranian government.
DHS officials did not provide details on the nature of the latest threat.
The unclassified alert issued Thursday was released by DHS' Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team, or ICS-CERT. The agency helps companies investigate intrusions and suggests ways to improve security. In doing so, it collects data about cyber-threats that it can use to alert the private sector.
The 13-page alert included specific measures that could be taken to prevent disruptive attacks, industry officials said.