|Target: Water Utilities|
Water Utilities play a critical role in our society. They provide fresh, potable water to residents, businesses and industry as well as manage the wastewater from them. As with other utilities and critical infrastructure, they are increasingly a target for hackers, terrorists, and hostile nation states. A successful hack can contaminate the fresh water supply, impair availability or cause an environmental disaster. It’s a direct risk to the health of the local population and supply chains which depend on readily available fresh water and wastewater management.
Becoming a Hard Target
Managing the risks isn’t trivial, but it’s not rocket science either –the science of cyber security has greatly matured over the past 20 years. The following 5 steps are key to a water utility becoming a hard target that is resistant to cyberattacks. Assess your overall cyber security program. Test your organization’s current readiness to cyber attacks on an annual basis by assessing both your external perimeter and your internal networks. Make sure you include both the IT and the OT (SCADA) sides of the house. Perform ongoing vulnerability management throughout the year. Make sure you have someone watching for suspicious security events. Lastly, make sure you have a Cyber Security Incident Response (CSIR) program in place. Because a cyber security incident is a question of when, not if, you must have a plan in place before it happens.
Strength In Numbers
Recognizing the critical importance of the water supply, leading water associations in the U.S., along with the U.S. federal government, have become increasingly organized in the defense of this essential infrastructure. A key part of this organization has been the formation of the Water Information Sharing and Analysis Center (WaterISAC). Authorized by the United States’ 2002 Bioterrorism Act, the WaterISAC is the key security information source for all threats impacting water and wastewater systems. In support of their mission, they have developed the 15 Cybersecurity Fundamentals for Water & Wastewater Utilities. As part of their ongoing education and outreach, WaterISAC recently invited nGuard to speak about some of these key cybersecurity concepts at an association meeting. You can watch this webinar below.
Threats Are on The Rise
As tensions rise on the border separating Russia and its south-west neighbor Ukraine, threats of cyber attacks have the Western World on edge. There have been nearly 500 documented cyber-attacks impacting the geopolitical landscape around the globe since 2009, with approximately 30% originating from Russia or China. History shows us that Russia has found success in launching cyber attacks against nations it feels “threaten their long-term national security.” On January 23rd, 2022, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a memo stating “Russia maintains a range of offensive cyber tools that it could employ against US networks—from low-level denials-of-service to destructive attacks targeting critical infrastructure.”
History of Conflict
Since the 2014 annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, cyberattacks have been a recurring militaristic theme in this conflict. In December 2015, Russian hackers exploited vulnerabilities in three Ukrainian energy distribution companies, disrupting the electricity supply for over 230,000 Ukrainians. The complex cyberattacks followed a similar exploit path that we see utilized by adversaries to this day. Social engineering campaigns were followed by the seizing of Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems, resulting in denial of service attacks on call centers, the destruction and encryption of critical file servers, and the disablement of OT infrastructure components.
In 2022, it seems that the Kremlin is more than ready to use the same cyber tactics that led to the successful annexation of Crimea in 2014. On January 15th, 2022 Microsoft reported that dozens of Ukrainian government agencies had fallen victim to a website defacement attack. The message on the affected websites read “be afraid and expect the worst.”
Russia is suspected of using similar tactics to launch “false-flag” operations that are intended to stir up domestic tension in Ukraine and/or cast blame on Ukraine for the conflict. U.S. and international information security teams are ramping up preparations for any possible scenario as diplomatic negotiations continue.
The continued discovery of critical vulnerabilities that affect internet-facing systems (see Log4j) requires organizations to conduct ongoing vulnerability scanning and penetration testing to ensure attackers can’t gain a foothold on internal networks. By incorporating internal security awareness training and table-top exercises, standard employees and information security teams can be prepared for any scenario. As a leading provider of cyber security services, nGuard is ready to discuss your organization’s needs and help implement protective measures.