The Importance of Cybersecurity for Water Treatment Plants

In May of 2021, cybercriminals launched a ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline. This conduit brings fuel to the East Coast, and its shutdown affected travel, logistics, and businesses along the supply chain. Although the disruption was temporary, it highlights the need for digital cybersecurity for critical infrastructure systems.

Operators of water systems and treatment plants need to pay attention to the risks of a cyberattack. Residents depend on a reliable, clean water supply, and an unexpected shutdown will touch every aspect of day-to-day life in an affected area.

Why Should Cybersecurity Be a Priority?

While water systems are essential, they don’t receive much attention unless something goes wrong. However, for potential terrorists or hackers seeking a ransom, a municipal water system provides an ideal target. If there’s low security, criminals can impact a large population with a low investment of time and resources.

Large water systems may have dedicated IT personnel monitoring the system, but the technology staff of small or medium-sized towns may be responsible for every department in the municipality. Rural systems that make up the bulk of water infrastructure may have no digital protection. In some cases, a single IT manager handles the needs of several water systems.

Human Error: The Greatest Treatment Plant Vulnerability

Real-life cyberattacks rarely have the level of drama portrayed in movies or television. The most significant treatment plant vulnerability is not a hacker typing swiftly to bypass a firewall. It’s an employee with a weak password or someone who clicks a link in a fraudulent email. The easiest strategy for cybercriminals is to take advantage of staff members who don’t understand the risks.

Strategies to Mitigate Online Attacks

Avoiding a cybersecurity breach requires careful planning. The number of ransomware attacks grows higher every year. These incursions are also becoming more targeted and sophisticated. A municipality without a security strategy will not have sufficient protection.

Security Education

Digital security begins with education. Phishing schemes that cast a wide net no longer fool most users. They know better than to click links or download files from unsolicited emails. However, cybercriminals have improved their techniques, and general phishing has become targeted spear phishing.

In this strategy, hackers look for details on social media or other sources that will add credibility to their emails. If users think that an email comes from a credible source, they are more likely to click or download files. Employees need to know how to avoid these schemes. Confirming the identity of someone asking for sensitive information takes only a few moments.

Role-Based Access

The network architecture is another way to protect the system. Employees should have access to information based on their role in the organization. Limiting access to data will minimize the damage of a cybersecurity breach.

Whitelisting Websites

Successful cyberattacks happen every day, and it’s only a matter of time before an employee opens the wrong website. Most organizations take the approach of refusing access to sites with inappropriate content or time-wasting websites. Only granting access to a handful of whitelisted sites is a more proactive approach to safety.

Software Updates

Some cybersecurity breaches exploit weaknesses in software platforms. However, developers are constantly patching their products when they discover a problem. In a few recent cases, hackers took advantage of weak spots in Java products that had been known for a decade. However, the companies involved had never updated to the safest version.

Enhancing Cyber Safety with SCADA Technology

A remote monitoring solution like SCADA is another way municipalities can protect their water treatment plants. When managers program the system to send alerts automatically, they will know right away when something outside the norm happens. The system can even shut parts of itself down if a remote actor tries to cause problems.
At High Tide Technologies, we believe remote SCADA is a powerful tool for enhancing water collection, distribution, and treatment systems. However, we also understand the importance of digital safety. Our systems employ security measures such as two-step verification to prevent unauthorized access. Contact us today to learn more about how SCADA can impact and protect your water system operations.