Feds Drop Warning To States As Water Utilities Face Cybersecurity Threats

(USNewsMag.com) – U.S. security officials are warning of new cybersecurity threats after the Municipal Water Authority of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, was the victim of an international cyberattack.

The small water authority in western Pennsylvania was one of several water utilities struck by Iranian-backed hackers who were targeting a specific computer system that was Israeli-made. While the hacking did not disrupt the operations or threaten the drinking water, U.S. officials are concerned because the hacks were low-level attacks that did not require a lot of skill.

According to the Municipal Water Authority of Aliquippa, which serves 15,000 people, the hackers displayed an anti-Israel message on the computer system used to manage water pressure. The water authority has never had any help protecting its systems from a cyberattack, either at its new $18.5 million plant currently under construction or at its existing plant built in the 1930s. However, the water authority has the ability to switch to manual operation, which meant customers were not affected by the hack. Crews were also alerted to the hack by an alarm that sounded. Until the equipment is replaced, general manager Robert J. Bible said the water utility was operating one of its pump stations in manual mode.

Some states, such as Tennessee and New Jersey, have already passed legislation to increase cybersecurity at water authorities, while others, such as Pennsylvania, have shot down proposed legislation.

Water authority advocates say money and expertise are needed and are what is lacking to protect the 150,000 public water systems across the country. However, the more pressing needs of aging pipes and the increasing costs to comply with clean water regulations take priority over cybersecurity for many water authorities.

Democrat Pennsylvania state Rep. Rob Matzie is working on proposed legislation that would create a stream of funds that could be used to help electric and water utilities pay for cybersecurity upgrades.

Pennsylvania Rep. Chris Deluzio stated this “should be a wakeup call.”

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