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FBI says al-Qaida after water supply 

Memo says bin Laden backers scoured Web for attack ideas 


Jan. 30 - The FBI has issued a bulletin indicating it believes members
of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network are trying to gain remote control
of U.S. water supplies and wastewater treatment plants, according to
computer security firm SecurityFocus.com. The bulletin was not made
public, but instead was sent by the FBI's National Infrastructure
Protection Center to about 3,000 members of the center's InfraGard
program, an information-sharing partnership between the FBI and private
industry, according to SecurityFocus.com. 

They specifically sought information on water supply and wastewater
management practices in the U.S. and abroad. 

IN THE BULLETIN, NIPC indicates members of al-Qaida have scoured the Web
in search of methods for gaining control of water supply facilities and
wastewater treatment plants through the computer networks used by U.S.
utility companies.
"U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies have received
indications that al-Qaida members have sought information on Supervisory
Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems available on multiple
SCADA-related Web sites," reads the bulletin, according to
SecurityFocus. "They specifically sought information on water supply and
wastewater management practices in the U.S. and abroad." 
Such systems are used by utility companies and municipalities to control
equipment at unmanned facilities from a central location. The systems
are generally not on the public Internet, but are connected through
dedicated communications channels that link a control center to hundreds
of "remote terminal units." These in turn control water pumps and other

The FBI told SecurityFocus that the bulletin is not a full-blown alert. 
"It just says be on the lookout," FBI supervisory special agent Steven
Berry told the Web site. "There's some information that suggests that
they [al-Qaida] are looking at this... There are potential interests in
water supplies, and other infrastructures."
Remote control of water or sewage plants is not merely a hypothetical
concern. Two years ago, a frustrated computer hacker, seeking
retribution for being fired, caused treatment plants in Queensland,
Australia to overflow. The break-in caused millions of gallons of raw
sewage to be dumped into creeks and parks on the Sunshine Coast, a
popular tourist and holiday destination. 

The nation's water system is a delicate balance of interlocking
components that includes: the water supply system (dams, reservoirs,
wells, etc.); water treatment system; and the water distribution system
(pipes, pumps storage tanks, etc.). These systems are mostly aging and
in urgent need of upgrading, not simply to bolster them from terrorist
attack but to keep them adequately handling the growing water needs of
the 21st Century.

In addition to the utility company warnings, the NIPC bulletin released
Wednesday noted al-Qaida interest in "insecticides and pest control
products at several Web sites." 
Also according to the bulletin, a computer belonging to a bin Laden
associate was found to contain structural architecture computer
programs, including AutoCAD, CATIGE, Microstran and BEAM, "that
suggested the individual was interested in structural engineering as it
related to dams and other water-retaining structures." 
The same unnamed individual had a program used to identify soil types
using the Unified Soil Classification System, according to the bulletin.

Earlier this month, a number of water supply experts conceded to
MSNBC.com that the country's 54,065 public and private water systems
were indeed vulnerable.
"Although recognized in the past, the vulnerability of our water systems
to deliberate acts has not received sufficient attention," said Richard
Luthy, chair of the Water Science and Technology Board of the National
Research Council, in congressional testimony last year. "The reasons
include the fact that simply developing and maintaining our existing
water system received primary attention," he said. 
The darker angels of the water security issue are old, crumbling
pipelines and treatment plants. The "reality is that many components of
our water systems are aging and need repairs, replacement, or upgrades,"
Luthy told Congress. 
The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies has asked Congress for
$57 billion over a five year period targeted at drinking water and
wastewater infrastructure. 

MSNBC.com's Bob Sullivan contributed to this report

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