​Strengthening the nation's defense against hackers

But the oil company hadn't change that password -- and Heidt could have taken control of its phone and data systems.

How big a team, and how long was involved, in unearthing this information that could have targeted an enormous gas company?

"A single intern, one engineer, and one week of effort," Heidt laughed.

Lisa Monaco, President Obama's top homeland security and counterterrorism advisor, told Pogue, "What we're seeing increasingly is a range of breaches -- credit card theft, theft of trade secrets, economic espionage. All of these things combine to form what we've described as one of the most serious national security and economic threats that we face."

Monaco meets with President Obama every morning. And increasingly, she said, "those meetings are featuring discussions about cyber threats, discussions about breaches to companies around the country, breaches to our own federal networks."

She says that last November's attack on Sony Pictures was especially troubling. The hackers took control of Sony's computers, deleted millions of files, and made public Social Security numbers, salaries, and embarrassing emails. And the fallout continues: Just this past week, one of those emails revealed something about Ben Affleck didn't want public: He had asked the producers of the PBS program "Finding Your Roots" not to mention that his ancestor had been a slave-owner.

Back in January, in his State of the Union address, President Obama had this call to action:

"No foreign nation, no hacker, should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets, or invade the privacy of American families."

Which is why this month the President signed a new executive order. It lets the Treasury Decretary freeze the assets of hackers who disrupt networks or steal trade secrets. And to better coordinate the government's response to attacks, he's creating a new office in the White House: the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center.

"It will be one center, one place in the government, that synthesizes this information, analyzes it, understands who are the range of threat actors that we face, and -- very, very importantly -- have a place that can identify the information that can be shared with the private sector," said Monaco, who will oversee the new effort.

"Pretend I'm a non-technical American," said Pogue, "and all I know is movies, where bad guys remotely take control of traffic lights and dams and nuclear power plants. Is that realistic?"

"The danger or the risk of a catastrophic cyberattack of the type that you just described is fairly remote," said Monaco. "Nevertheless, I think it's very important to remember that we are an increasingly interconnected world. And that means we are increasingly vulnerable."

The White House isn't the only outfit preparing for more cyber attacks.

cyber-city-620.jpg
Ed Skoudis shows David Pogue "CyberCity," part of a simulated environment used to help train computer experts how to ward off cyberattacks.
CBS News

Ed Skoudis built "CyberCity" for the Sans Institute, a cybersecurity training firm. It may look like something out of Mr. Rogers' neighborhood, but Skoudis says it's one of the military's premier cyberwar simulators.

"Everything under the table is the actual same equipment that is used to control a power grid or a water reservoir or the other kinds of equipment we have," said Skoudis.