Officials Deeply Concerned Over Cyberattacks on U.S. Water Systems

( – American drinking water continues to be under threat from cyberattacks, which have become more frequent, and water utilities across the nation are being warned by the federal government to take action immediately to secure the country’s drinking water.

On Monday, May 20th, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a warning to water systems in the form of an enforcement alert, urging the utilities to take action to protect their systems from cyber security threats that could interrupt water supply for millions of Americans.

Over the last year, federal inspectors said 70% of utilities they looked at violated security standards and were left vulnerable to breaches and intrusions. Citing recent cyberattacks from groups connected to geopolitical rivals like Iran and Russia on smaller communities, officials are even urging smaller systems to improve upon their protections and preventative measures against hackers.

The alert claimed that some of the failures are basic protections that should be in place, such as failing to change default setting passwords or cut off access to former employees, both of which would be easy ways to breach the systems. The EPA said protecting such information is crucial because modern utilities depend upon computer software to run water distribution systems and treatment plants.

Cyberattacks could interrupt water flow, storage, and treatment processes. Such attacks can also damage valves and pumps and even alter the chemical levels in water to amounts that could be hazardous.

Janet McCabe, Deputy Administrator for the EPA, rebuked the systems that “are not doing what they are supposed to be doing” by failing to complete “a risk assessment of their vulnerabilities.” In the past, most hackers would target a water provider’s websites or its networks, but recent efforts are gone after the actual operations of the facilities, raising serious national security concerns in the light of some of those hackers having connections to rival nations.

Last year, a group allegedly connected to Iran targeted a small water utility plant in a Pennsylvania town. And earlier this year, a “hacktivist” group linked to Russia attempted to disrupt operations at facilities in Texas.

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