Protecting infrastructure on the agenda at Black Hat

Here at Black Hat: this is the network operations center which monitors computer traffic. (Jeff Gillan | KSNV)

Each day, it seems, a new target: a power grid here, a company there.

"I think we need to be very worried," says Accenture Managing Director Matt Devost.

I met Devost at Mandalay Bay, the day before Black Hat 2017 gets underway in earnest. The conference will attract more than 16,000 computer and information technology experts, talking about all aspects of computer intrusion and hacker prevention.

An especially hot topic this year: attacks on critical infrastructure, which the world witnessed in 2016 in Ukraine. The suspect: Russia.

"Power, telecommunications, banking, finance, transportation, even something as simple as water and sewer - those are all connected to networks and computer systems now that allow those systems to be controlled remotely," Devost told me.

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The problem, as he sees it?

"We adopt these new technologies without really thinking through the security implications of them," Devost says.

The "security implications" are becoming ever-clearer in a world where warfare is now conducted with keystrokes and not bullets.

Nothing new, says information technology expert Adrian Crenshaw, who makes his living breaking into company computer systems and then telling executives how he did it, and how to stop it.

"You don't necessarily know if it's nation-state actors or if it's just somebody, a criminal in another country, who happens to be doing it for personal profit or just for fun," Crenshaw says.

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"We definitely have somewhat of a cyber arms race right now," Devost says. "It's not by coincidence that the U.S. Department of Defense in 2010 acknowledged that cyber was a domain of warfare, just like sea, air and space."

The United States spends billions on its cyber-warfare assets. Companies spend millions protecting their internal networks.

Spend more, says Kris Rosson, who guards the computer networks of a California casino.

"It's not as if you're going to get compromised or if somebody's going to get in. It's a matter of when," Rosson says.

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