News Feature | December 5, 2023

Iran-Linked Hackers Breach Water Utility In Alleged Systems Hack

By Peter Chawaga


A recent cyberattack on a regional water system with reported ties to an international conflict has renewed questions about drinking water and wastewater treatment operations as critical points of failure in national security.

“A Pennsylvania water utility is still dealing with the fallout of pro-Iran hackers breaching some of its industrial equipment … including having to operate one of its water pump stations in manual mode,” CNN reported. “The hackers breached the equipment — which the Pittsburgh-area utility uses to manage water pressure … displaying a message on the monitor that Israel-made gear was fair game amid the ongoing Israeli-Hamas war.”

Federal officials are now investigating the cyberattack as increasingly frequent breaches at drinking water and wastewater treatment operations become a national priority. In this case, the attackers seemed to be able to exploit security holes that might be found at any number of other operations.

“The attackers likely accessed the device by exploiting cybersecurity weaknesses, including poor password security and exposure to the internet, U.S. officials said,” according to NBC Philadelphia. “The equipment at issue is made by Israel-based Unitronics, which did not immediately respond to queries about what other facilities may have been hacked or could be vulnerable.”

The White House announced a concerted effort to prevent such attacks on drinking water supplies early last year, though this recent incident in Pennsylvania shows that federal authorities might not be doing enough to protect local water and wastewater systems.

“The incident has raised concerns in Washington. The White House National Security Council has in recent days had multiple meetings about the hack of the water utility,” per CNN.

Despite Biden Administration efforts, many smaller water utilities “don’t have the help they need, in part because they don’t know where to go or who to ask for help, especially without paying an arm and a leg,” Jennifer Lynn Walker, the director of infrastructure cyber defense for the Water Information Sharing and Analysis Center, told CNN.

If hacking groups continue to target critical infrastructure like drinking water treatment operations to push their international agendas, it’s clear that federal authorities will have to do more.

To read more about how water utilities protect their digital systems, visit Water Online’s Resiliency Solutions Center.