Water and wastewater operations require extensive computer systems and remote access to keep them running smoothly. Expanded technology and connection through the internet of things make water delivery smarter than ever, but it comes at the cost of vulnerability to cyber-attacks.
While the looming threat of hacker infiltration can be frightening, there are ways that water utilities can step up to defend against attacks and protect themselves from infiltration.
Cyber-attacks attempt to damage, disrupt, or gain unauthorized access to a computer, computer system or electronic communications network.
In a guide for water utilities entitled, “Cybersecurity Risk and Responsibility in the Water Sector,” the American Water Works Association (AWWA) lays out some of the ways that cybercriminals and hackers attack utilities:
Cyber-attacks can leave lasting and costly damage to an operation’s infrastructure and harm consumers. One example mentioned in the AWWA guide was the City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management after they were subject to a ransomware attack. It cost millions of dollars to recover data and fix infected systems. Cyber-attacks against smaller utilities can cripple their operations as they lack the resources to counter hackers.
Utility cybersecurity is a collection of defensive actions a utility takes to prevent cyber-attacks. Every utility should have some form of cybersecurity to defend against unauthorized access and recover if the system is compromised. Cybersecurity implementation is straightforward in theory but requires a lot of time and resources. Water management is one of the most under-resourced utilities in the U.S., usually being run by small teams of overworked staff.
For small utilities, it is becoming increasingly important for water and wastewater management to emphasize cybersecurity.
Cybersecurity is a growing concern for utility companies of all types. While media attention has gravitated towards electric utility attacks, water management companies must be just as, if not more, vigilant. Here are some ways that utilities are working to keep their systems and data safe:
Water sector segmentation makes it more difficult for universal standards across providers in the United States. This leaves it up to the individual utilities to ensure they follow through with protection protocols and a clean-up plan if they are compromised.
These attacks can compromise the cleanliness of the water and financial information of a utility’s customers. If the population can’t trust their water supplier to provide clean water, this can lead to a lack of confidence in the administration that can feed into other areas.
Consulting with a water and wastewater operations team that knows the importance of security and can implement measures to protect against damage is key to success.
If you are looking for a team of experts in water and wastewater management, contact Alliance Water Resources. We’ve helped communities of all sizes steady their operations and become EPA compliant for present and future success.