It’s not the worldwide hacking collective Anonymous who are the most successful hackers in the world when it comes to our critical infrastructure – it’s squirrels! Critical infrastructure includes a country’s power stations, communication networks and other vital institutions. To date, human hackers have carried out just four successful cyber attacks of this kind, while the number of attacks by squirrels is at least 1,000 times that.
Despite this, criminal hackers continue to dominate the headlines even though there is little evidence of the threat they pose being put into action. That’s far from the case where squirrels are concerned, though: they carry out around 300 acts of vandalism a year in the city of Austin, Texas, alone. No one can keep count of all their attacks – or even estimate the number – because some last only a fraction of a second, causing a brief flickering of the lights at most.
Yet these tiny creatures can have a big impact – they have already shut down Wall Street’s NASDAQ stock exchange twice. In the city of Tampa, Florida, a squirrel bite led to a drinking water emergency lasting 37 hours, with residents forced to boil their water before consuming it. And in a transformer shed in Canada, a squirrel sparked a 3,000°C fireball, which cut off the electricity supply to an area the size of Britain for an hour.
Cyber defence bosses secretly admit that the four-legged hackers represent a huge problem: “The number one threat to the electricity grid is squirrels,” says John Inglis, former deputy director of the National Security Agency. But danger doesn’t just lie in the trees…