EPA Raises Alarm Over Surge in Cyber threats to Water Utilities

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EPA Raises Alarm Over Surge in Cyber threats to Water Utilities
EPA Raises Alarm Over Surge in Cyber threats to Water Utilities. Credit | AP

United States: In an enforcement alert released on Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency said that cyberattacks against water serviceability across the nation are come more frequent and serious, and water systems should take prompt preventives to guard the country’s drinking water.

Increasing Threats to Water Systems

According to the government, about 70% of utilities evaluated by federal officials in the past year broke rules designed to stop cyberthreats. Officials warned that recent attacks by hostile nation states like Russia and Iran had affected water systems of all sizes, and they urged even tiny water systems to strengthen defenses against cyberattacks.

Critical Vulnerabilities and Consequences

According to the advisory, some water systems are not meeting basic requirements, such as changing default passwords or denying access to former staff. Protecting information technology and process controls is essential because water utilities frequently rely on computer software to run treatment plants and distribution networks, according to the EPA. According to the EPA, disruptions in water treatment and storage, harm to pumps and valves, and changes in chemical levels to dangerous levels are all potential consequences of cyberattacks.

Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe of the EPA stated, “In many cases, systems are not doing what they should be doing, which is to have completed a risk assessment of their vulnerabilities, including cybersecurity, and to make sure that plan is available and informing the way they do business.”

There have long been attempts by private organizations or individuals to breach a water provider’s network in order to take down or alter websites. Attackers have, however, recently shifted their focus from websites to the functioning of utilities.

Nation-State Involvement and Recent Attacks

Recent attacks aim to disrupt the provision of safe water to homes and businesses, and many of them have the support of the government in addition to private entities. The nations that are “actively seeking the capability to disable U.S. critical infrastructure, including water and wastewater,” according to McCabe, are China, Russia, and Iran.

A group known as “Cyber Av3ngers,” with ties to Iran, attacked a number of businesses late last year, forcing the water provider of a small Pennsylvania town to convert from a remote pump to manual operations. They were pursuing an Israeli-manufactured gadget that the utility had been using following Israel’s war with Hamas.

A “hactivist” with ties to Russia attempted to interfere with the operations of multiple Texas utilities earlier this year.

Urgent Response and Government Action

According to U.S. officials, a cyber gang called Volt Typhoon that is associated with China has gained access to the information technology of several vital infrastructure systems, including drinking water systems, in the United States and its territories.

“By collaborating behind the scenes with these hacktivist groups, these [nation states] can now grant these groups plausible deniability and allow them to carry out damaging attacks.” And that, in my opinion, is a game-changer,” stated Dawn Cappelli, a cybersecurity specialist employed by Dragos Inc. for risk management.

The purpose of the enforcement alert is to alert utilities to the gravity of cyberthreats, to continue EPA inspections, and to pursue civil or criminal fines if significant issues are discovered.

McCabe stated, “We want to make sure that we let people know that we are finding a lot of problems here.”

Biden Administration Initiative

As part of the Biden administration’s larger initiative to counter threats to vital infrastructure, water companies are being targeted for attack. President Biden issued an executive order in February to safeguard American ports. Attacks have been made against healthcare systems. Electric providers have also being pressured by the White House to strengthen their security. States have been requested by White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and EPA Administrator Michael Regan to develop a plan to combat cyberattacks on drinking water systems.

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