Ariel Stern, a former Israeli Air Force captain, warns that the US and Israel are still unprepared to defeat a cyber attack against the water sector that could be orchestrated by enemy states like Iran.
Stern highlighted the dangers for providers of critical infrastructure and issued his warning following the ransomware attack that in august disrupted the IT operations of South Staffordshire Water, a UK company supplying drinking water to 1.6M consumers daily.
The intelligence officer pointed out that nations like Russia, Iran, North Korea, and China have the capabilities to hit the water sector with dramatic consequences.
“He flagged that the main adversary in this sphere for Israel is Iran, but cautioned that even after past cyber attacks on Israel’s and America’s water sector in recent years, “we don’t have top minds in the water industry.”” reported The Jerusalem Post. ““Most water sector workers are civil engineers. How can they ignore it [cyber dangers]? They are very sophisticated within their domain relating to pipes, water flows, ground stabilization and chemistry,” but not with regard to blocking hackers.”
One of the main problems for the industry is the lack of proper training for cyber defense.
A cyber attack against a water facility or an organization in the water sector could have a widespread impact because many infrastructures serve wide areas including many cities and states, and protecting them it is not easy.
In many cases, the IT and OT networks are not separated and are not designed to be resilient to cyber-attacks.
Stern explained that there are 55,000 distinct water operators in the US, but the majority of the population is served by a small number of those operators that are exposed to cyber attacks. He urges these organizations to rapidly adopt necessary defense measures.
Another factor that exposes the water sector to cyber attacks is the increasing technological penetration, more automation implies more systems potentially affected by vulnerabilities.
He added that the US government is delaying in putting out an order that everyone must comply with a given cybersecurity standard.
Many organizations in the industrial water sector continue to use low-quality systems.
“The story of cybersecurity is decades-long. We didn’t make enough progress over the years for how we secured critical infrastructure of power plants, water” and other sectors.” Biden administration cyber chief Anne Neuberger told TJP. “Almost immediately after the administration took office, we started drafting the [first new cyber] executive order. It got released right after [the] Colonial [Pipeline hack], but it was after months of work. President [Joe] Biden knew the issue. It was clear that cyber was a priority.”
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(SecurityAffairs – hacking, critical infrastructure)