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Local experts voice Iranian cyberattack concerns

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Computers

MADISON (WKOW) - As tensions continue to escalate, the threat of some form of retaliation from Iran is rising.

Security experts say a cyberattack is most likely.

"We're concerned every day about cyberattacks in the state of Wisconsin," Bill Nash, Chief Information Security Officer for the state, said.

As the possibility of a conflict with Iran rises after the killing of General Qassem Soleimani Friday, cybersecurity specialists are bracing for some sort of retaliation.

"I'm not exactly surprised by this and we've been doing a lot of efforts to prepare for this at the state level," Nash said,

He says this form of attack has been brought to the forefront of his field within the past six years.

"All of the major nation states have this capability and Iran has pulled them off before," Mike Masino, a cybersecurity expert and professor at Madison College, said.

He says cyberattackers typically probe every system for vulnerabilities, and then leave them alone.

When it comes time for an attack, anyone -- private accounts, power grids, or even larger state and federal systems -- could come under fire.

Since a cyberattack is hard to trace, any of our country's enemies might take this opportunity to attack and blame Iran.

"The likelihood of something like this happening, is pretty high," Masino said. "If they wanted to do something to cause a problem, this is an excellent time."

Madison is no stranger to cyberattacks. Communication equipment was shut down after a hacker targeted the city in 2015.

But Masino says city staff have told him they've run drills for similar forms of attacks and are much more prepared now than even a few years ago.

However, they say no system is perfect and an attack could still get through.

"We are prepared on the back side to catch them and respond to them and hopefully recover from them very quickly," Nash said.

Masino and Nash both say as long as your antivirus software is up to date and you have secure passwords, the everyday person should be safe.

"That's all the home user can do so this is no different than any normal threat," Masino said.

He said the most likely form of attack would attempt to shut down local power grids or water supply system.

In a statement Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for Madison Gas and Electric (MGE) said: "Cybersecurity and prevention of attacks on the electric grid and natural gas system are priorities for all utilities at all times. MGE is no different."

The spokesperson went on to say MGE works with public and private partners on cybersecurity and has multiple layers of protection to protect the city's critical infrastructure.

Francisco Almenara

Reporter, WKOW

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