Avoiding Cybersecurity Risks at Water Treatment & Sewer Facilities

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Avoiding Cybersecurity Risks at Water Treatment & Sewer Facilities

Water treatment and sewer facilities have become a frequent target for malicious parties and cyberattacks. This kind of facility has a crucial role in our societies’ infrastructure, so shocking their operations come with a high cost.

Industrial Control Systems (ICS), since connected to the internet, are exposed to major threats that organizations, both public and private, must address. The problem is that it’s usual to find outdated, ineffective cybersecurity technologies and practices to protect ICSs. 

As a result, we see how often malicious parties achieve success when attacking water treatment and sewer facilities, with different degrees of caused damage.

To change this, organizations must become aware of the risks that this kind of facility is exposed to. This is the first step to implement the right methodologies and good cyber-hygiene habits for effective protection.

Known Risks at Water Treatment & Sewer Facilities

When attacking water treatment and sewer facilities’ OT, malicious agents have different angles. While everything starts with poor cybersecurity practices and ineffective controls, the risks vary in nature.

Data integrity is one of the usual risks not only in this kind of facility but for any organization that operates with sensitive consumer data. Most cybercriminals operating today have the goal of stealing consumer data that may include confidential information such as financial details and Social Security numbers.

Taking over systems and industrial operations is another risk with significant consequences from an industrial perspective. Hackers may, by accessing the network through vulnerabilities in the ICS, take control, sabotage operations, start pumps up without adequate guards, or suddenly shut them down.

A criminal agent can alter the ICS’s settings, configuration, passwords, and logic. Logs can also be disabled, making the organization unable to counter the attack and recover swiftly.

All these alterations unwanted changes can, in practical terms, violently stop operations in pumping stations, neutralize transmission logic (which would cause pumps to break), and erase materials on the controllers.

After suffering such cyber attacks, water treatment and sewer facilities can experience serious long-term consequences. Large-scale, industrial operations cannot neglect cybersecurity and be exposed to these risks, especially in days of uncertainty and unrest.

Awareness as the First Step in Prevention

While appropriate technologies are indispensable to guarantee cybersecurity’s high standards in water treatment and sewer facilities, awareness may be the first step in most cases.

Even in the most modern, engaged organizations, we sometimes find a lack of awareness among stakeholders. Ignoring the threat makes organizations exponentially more vulnerable to cyberattacks.

A lack of awareness is often the cause of lousy cyber-hygiene habits, outdated security solutions, and overall poor performance. Therefore, we genuinely recommend our clients to carry out efforts in awareness training to keep all stakeholders on the same page when it comes to protecting OT/ICS.

Further Steps in Protecting Our Facilities

There are important lessons to be learned from disclosed cyberattacks on industrial facilities. Fortunately, many organizations have been able to understand how sensitive and exposed their ICSs can be. We can see how stakeholders are taking this challenge in their hands. 

Understanding how important it is to protect these facilities is the first step in assessing potential vulnerabilities and enabling the right cybersecurity mechanisms and methods. Outdated (or even nonexistent) technologies in charge to protect OT/ICS are often the result of negligence. Next, using the recommended technology to anticipate and counter malicious attempts is the right thing to do.

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