When the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power was hacked in 2018, it took a mere six hours. Early this year, an intruder lurked in hundreds of computers related to water systems across the U.S. In Portland, Oregon, burglars installed malicious computers onto a grid providing power to a chunk of the Northwest.

Two of those cases — L.A. and Portland — were tests. The water threat was real, discovered by cybersecurity firm Dragos.

All three drive home a point long known but, until recently, little appreciated: the digital security of U.S. computer networks controlling the machines that produce and distribute water and power is woefully inadequate, a low priority for operators and regulators, posing a terrifying national threat.

“If we have a new world

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