Bloomberg News

Top Cybersecurity Official Cites Hacker Threat to Infrastructure

September 29, 2011

Sept. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Damage inflicted by corporate data breaches this year pales in comparison to what might happen if a power grid or chemical plant were targeted by hackers or malicious software, a top U.S. cybersecurity official said.

A cyber attack on the nation’s critical infrastructure “could have cascading effects across multiple sectors” and is “another order of magnitude that we have to be worried about now,” Greg Schaffer, acting deputy undersecretary at the Homeland Security Department, said today.

The nation’s “adversaries” are “knocking on the doors of these systems and in some cases there have been intrusions,” Schaffer said, without detailing which companies were targeted and when.

Schaffer spoke during a tour of facilities at the Energy Department’s Idaho National Laboratory, where DHS has programs that assess technology vulnerabilities in utility, manufacturing and other systems and work with companies in those sectors to address specific cyberthreats. The laboratory is a center for nuclear energy research.

A cybersecurity proposal from the Obama administration calls for the Homeland Security Department to “work with industry” to shore up vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure, such as electrical grids and financial networks. The proposal, submitted to Congress in May, seeks to jump-start efforts in Congress to update U.S. laws in response to the increased threat of cyber attacks capable of crippling business and government operations.

Cybersecurity Legislation

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, is compiling comprehensive cybersecurity legislation on his side of Capitol Hill. In the House, a task force of 12 Republicans led by Representative William “Mac” Thornberry of Texas is expected to send its cybersecurity recommendations to House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Oct. 3.

Data breaches at Tokyo-based Sony Corp. and Citigroup Inc. have sharpened U.S. government scrutiny of how businesses protect consumer information and notify the public about cyber attacks. Sony was criticized by U.S. lawmakers including Representative Mary Bono Mack for taking six days to disclose an attack that exposed 100 million customer accounts and prompted the temporary shutdown of the company’s PlayStation Network.

--Editors: Michael Shepard, Allan Holmes

To contact the reporter on this story: Eric Engleman in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Shepard at

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