Insider charged with hacking California canal system

A man has been charged with hacking a computer used to control water canals in California.

A former employee of a small California canal system has been charged with installing unauthorized software and damaging the computer used to divert water from the Sacramento River.

Michael Keehn, 61, former electrical supervisor with Tehama Colusa Canal Authority (TCAA) in Willows, California, faces 10 years in prison on charges that he "intentionally caused damage without authorization to a protected computer," according to Keehn's November 15 indictment. He did this by installing unauthorized software on the TCAA's Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system, the indictment states.

Keehn accessed the system on or about August 15, according to the indictment. He is set to appear in federal court on December 4 to face charges of computer fraud.

As an electrical supervisor with the authority, he was responsible for computer systems and is still listed as the contact for the organization's Web site.

With a staff of 16, the TCAA operates two canals -- the Tehama Colusa Canal and the Corning Canal -- that provide water for agriculture in central California, near the city of Chico. Both systems are owned by the federal government.

The security of SCADA systems, which are used to control heavy machinery in industry, has become a hot-button topic in recent years. In September, video of an Idaho National Laboratory demonstration of a SCADA attack was aired on CNN, showing how a software bug could be exploited to destroy a power generator.

In the video, the turbine was gradually worn out and left shuddering and smoking. Sources familiar with the hack say this was done by turning the generator off and on while it was out of phase with the power grid, putting excessive stress on the turbine and causing its components to wear out.

It's not clear how much damage the attack on the Authority's SCADA system could have caused, but in 2000 a disgruntled former employee was able to access the SCADA system at Maroochy Water Services in Nambour, Australia, and spill raw sewage into waterways, hotel grounds and canals in the area. That man, Vitek Boden, was eventually sentenced to two years in prison.

Even if an attack were to knock the TCAA's SCADA system offline, the canals could continue to operate, said Robin Taylor, assistant U.S. attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, which is prosecuting the Keehn case. "When the computer doesn't work they have to go to manual operation," she said.

The intrusion cost the TCAA more than US$5,000 in damages, Taylor said.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Robert McMillan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?