Cybersecurity in the Water World – Why is it important to us?

Water and wastewater systems are key in the nation’s infrastructure. Supplying potable drinking water, fire protection, and safe collection and treatment of waste are among some of the critical services provided to communities across the country. In order to achieve these goals, today’s systems often require extensive computer systems and remote access to keep them performing efficiently and effectively. Thus, it is essential for many to be able to connect through the internet and expand this technology. However, with the use of complex computer systems and related technologies, new cyber vulnerabilities and risks come into play.

According to the Director of National Intelligence, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Homeland Security, cybersecurity is the greatest threat to critical infrastructure in the United States. Many facilities have already experienced cybersecurity events that have disrupted their business procedures and/or vital operations. Water and wastewater systems are no exception to this ever-looming threat and roughly 94% of cybersecurity professionals are more concerned after COVID-19. These cyber-attacks can and do cause significant harm. This includes, just to name a few, impacting water delivery by opening and closing valves, overriding alarms or disabling equipment, and compromising customers’ and/or employees’ personal information and data. Cyber-attacks are a very real risk to water and wastewater systems and one that should be evaluated with the critical role these systems play in mind.

As such, cybersecurity programs and response plans are beneficial in the mitigation of the vulnerabilities that cyber-attacks exploit. It is important that water and wastewater systems implement effective practices and procedures to assist in preventing these potential attacks. America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (AWIA) requires all community water systems serving populations of 3,300 or more to consider cybersecurity threats in their risk assessments and emergency response plans. Although, this does not imply that systems serving smaller communities are not vulnerable. In fact, smaller water and wastewater systems should evaluate how a cyber-attack could harm them as well. Overall, the importance of cybersecurity programs in today’s world is a necessity for every part of critical infrastructure in our country, including our water and wastewater systems.

Learn more about cybersecurity in the water world from WaterISAC here.

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