White House and EPA Issue Warning About Water System Hacking

(IntegrityTimes.com) – On Tuesday March 18, the Biden administration released a warning that America’s drinking water and wastewater utilities may be vulnerable to “disabling cyberattacks”. In recent months, U.S. water facilities have already been breached by Iranian and Chinese state-backed threat groups although none of these attacks have affected drinking water systems.

Michael S. Regan, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), says that the EPA and National Security Affairs (NSC) are taking these incidents, and the security threats they represent, very seriously. Regan and NSC’s Advisor Jake Sullivan’s joint letter to all US governors expressed the need for cooperation in ensuring that water systems in every state are defended against these cyberattacks and that they have protocols in place for swift recovery in the case of a successful attack.

The letter points out that because the nation’s water systems are so critical, the facilities need to have the resources and technical capacity to implement rigorous cybersecurity protections. Some are not even using basic cybersecurity practices such keeping their software updated or resetting default passwords.

The letter then went on to invite governors or their representatives to a virtual meeting on March 21 hosted by the NSC and the EPA which will be used as a springboard for the Water Sector Cybersecurity Task Force as well as fostering collaboration between government entities and water systems nationwide. The new task force will be focused on identifying vulnerabilities in the water systems and strategizing actions that can be used to protect against cyberattacks. White House officials have also requested that environmental officials and state homeland security meet to discuss improvements to cybersecurity that the water sector could implement.

The U.S. has roughly 150,000 public water systems, many of which struggle to find personnel and funding. While the normal issues of updating and maintaining these systems is something many municipalities already struggle with, the risk of hostile attacks only makes the situation more difficult. The current administration backing the EPA and NSC in recognizing the dire cybersecurity threat to America’s water systems may indicate that the vast importance of those systems is finally being taken seriously.

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