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Operators of electrical grids, telecommunications networks, and other critical infrastructure say their systems are under constant attack, often from sophisticated nation-states, according to a poll of 600 IT executives in 14 countries who oversee such networks.

The findings come two weeks after Google said it and at least 20 other companies in the internet, finance, technology, media, and chemical industries were victims of attacks that pierced their defenses to steal intellectual property. Google has said the attacks probably originated in China.

More than 54 percent of the respondents said their critical systems have already suffered large-scale attacks or stealthy infiltrations, according to the report, which was commissioned by McAfee and prepared by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. A majority also believes critical infrastructure in their countries are already under attack by foreign governments.

Significantly, the country identified as posting the biggest threat was the United States, which was named by 36 percent of respondents. China came in second at 33 percent.

The costs are considerable. Estimated expenses for downtime alone from a major incident is $6.3m per day. In attacks such as those disclosed by Google, the value of of stolen source code, hardware designs and other intellectual property must also be factored in to the cost.

Fifty-five percent of respondents said that laws in their country are inadequate in deterring potential attacks. One-third said they didn't believe their industry is prepared to respond to major attacks by state-sponsored adversaries.

"Governance issues are at the center of any discussion of security for critical infrastructure," Stewart Baker, an attorney for Steptoe & Johnson and one of the report's authors, said in a statement. "The relationships between the governments and private sector organizations involved are complex but it is essential that each have faith in the others' ability."

The report focused on computer networks that are considered essential such as those used by a country's financial system, gas, electricity, and water supply, and communication networks. Respondents in the power, oil, and gas industries said they were the most vulnerable.

Eighty percent of those who oversaw SCADA, or supervisory control and data acquisition, equipment and ICS, or industrial control systems, said their networks were connected to the internet or other IP network, and a little more than half of them said the connection created an "unresolved security issue." ®

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