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U.S. Says Cyberattacks On Water Utilities Are Increasing

Cyberattacks against water utilities are becoming more frequent and severe, the Environmental Protection Agency warned Monday as it issued an enforcement alert urging water systems to take immediate actions to protect the nation’s drinking water. About 70% of utilities inspected by federal officials over the last year violated standards meant to prevent breaches or other intrusions. Officials urged even small water systems to improve protections against hacks. Recent cyberattacks by groups affiliated with Russia and Iran have targeted smaller communities, the Associated Press reports. Some water systems are falling short in basic ways, the alert said, including failure to change default passwords or cut off system access to former employees. Because water utilities often rely on computer software to operate treatment plants and distribution systems, protecting information technology is crucial, the EPA said.


Possible impacts of cyberattacks include interruptions to water treatment and storage; damage to pumps and valves; and alteration of chemical levels to hazardous amounts, the agency said. “In many cases, systems are not doing what they are supposed to be doing, which is to have completed a risk assessment of their vulnerabilities that includes cybersecurity and to make sure that plan is available and informing the way they do business,” said EPA Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe. Attempts by private groups or individuals to get into a water provider’s network and take down or deface websites aren’t new. More recently, attackers haven’t just gone after websites, they’ve targeted utilities’ operations instead. Recent attacks are not just by private entities. Some hacks of water utilities are linked to geopolitical rivals, and could lead to the disruption of the supply of safe water to homes and businesses. McCabe named China, Russia and Iran as the countries that are “actively seeking the capability to disable U.S. critical infrastructure, including water and wastewater.” Last year, an Iranian-linked group called “Cyber Av3ngers” targeted organizations including a Pennsylvania town's water provider, forcing it to switch from a remote pump to manual operations. They were going after an Israeli-made device used by the utility in the wake of Israel’s war against Hamas.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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