FBI eyes plethora of river-related threats

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Giant cranes loading and unloading gargantuan barges. Oil tankers, supply vessels and pipelines serving a vital energy industry. Flood control structures. Chemical plants. Cruise ships. Drinking water sources. All computer-reliant and tied in some way to the internet. All of them vulnerable to cyber thieves, hackers and terrorists.

Roughly nine months into his job as special agent in charge of the New Orleans office of the FBI, agent Eric Rommal is keenly aware of the dangers cyber-criminals pose to Mississippi River-related businesses and south Louisiana infrastructure.

"Louisiana is a major cyber vulnerability area," Rommal told The Associated Press in an interview.

"Every time that we have a vessel that travels up or down the Mississippi River there's a vulnerability: that that vessel or persons on those vessels may in fact be doing harm to our systems," said Rommal. "And that affects the national economy and affects the entire United States."

Rommal, accompanied by Matthew Ramey, who supervises the office's cyber squad, and Drew Watts, an assistant special agent in charge, discussed a litany of vulnerable areas and the ways the FBI in New Orleans works to protect them.

COMMERCE

"When it relates to commerce and the economy throughout the United States, oil and gas - it all starts here," said Rommal. "And when those systems are compromised, it doesn't just affect Louisiana. It affects the entire nation."

A cyber disruption of security systems that protect pipeli....

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