Watch the water is taking on new meaning in the light of a new report and warning from the Department of Homeland Security. It seems that hackers are threatening the nation’s drinking water and wastewater treatment plants with cyber attacks.
Authorities said they wanted to highlight ongoing malicious cyber activity “by both known and unknown actors” targeting the technology and information systems that provide clean, drinkable water and treat the billions of gallons of wastewater created in the U.S. every year.
The alert, which disclosed three previously unreported ransomware attacks on water treatment facilities, was issued by the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA). It was the result of analytic efforts by DHS, the FBI, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Security Agency.
One DHS cybersecurity official described it as the routine sharing of technical information between federal agencies and their industry partners “to help collectively reduce the risk to critical infrastructure in the United States.” Added a second Homeland Security official: “It’s not any indication of a new threat. We don’t want anyone to think that their drinking water supply is under attack.”
And the actors in this sort of scenario do not have to be foreign.
Despite their assurances, the advisory disclosed that in March 2019, a former employee at a Kansas-based water and wastewater treatment facility unsuccessfully tried to threaten drinking water safety by logging in with his user credentials – which had not been revoked at the time of his resignation – to remotely access a facility computer.
The indictment, announced March 31, alleges that Travnichek’s job for the utility was to monitor the water plant remotely by logging into its computer system. Two months after he left his job with the water district in January 2019, it said, Travnichek logged in remotely with the intent of shutting shut down the facility’s cleaning and disinfecting procedures.
“By illegally tampering with a public drinking water system, the defendant threatened the safety and health of an entire community,” said Lance Ehrig, special agent in charge of the EPA’s criminal investigation division in Kansas. The federal indictment says Travnichek used a Samsung phone to commit the offense.
Just the fact that this could be an issue in the future should put all Americans on alert, and perhaps be vigilant about keeping a non-municipal sourced supply of drinking water on hand.
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