News Feature | March 21, 2018

Russian Hackers Allegedly Targeting Water Utilities

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

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The Trump administration claimed on Thursday (March 15) that Russian hackers are attacking U.S. water utilities.

“The Trump administration accused Russia of engineering a series of cyberattacks that targeted American and European nuclear power plants and water and electric systems, and could have sabotaged or shut power plants off at will,” The New York Times reported.

“United States officials and private security firms saw the attacks as a signal by Moscow that it could disrupt the West’s critical facilities in the event of a conflict,” the report said.

“The announcement was the first official confirmation that Russian hackers have taken aim at facilities on which hundreds of millions of Americans depend for basic services,” Bloomberg reported.

The number of strikes allegedly increased three years ago at the same time Russia was interfering with the presidential election, the report said. The attackers compromised facilities in the U.S. and Europe.

Last spring, “Russian hackers made their way to machines with access to critical control systems at power plants that were not identified. The hackers never went so far as to sabotage or shut down the computer systems that guide the operations of the plants,” The New York Times reported, citing the U.S. Homeland Security Department (DHS).

DHS released a report on Thursday detailing the claims.

“DHS and FBI characterize this activity as a multi-stage intrusion campaign by Russian government cyber actors who targeted small commercial facilities’ networks where they staged malware, conducted spear phishing, and gained remote access into energy sector networks,” the report said.

Circle of Blue described how water utilities become targets of cyberattacks.

“Sometimes cyberattacks are targets of opportunity,” Michael Arceneaux, managing director of WaterISAC, a cybersecurity information hub for the water sector, told Circle of Blue.

In the U.S., federal officials are working to urge water utilities to pay more attention to the rising threat of cyberattacks.

“This will become a greater issue in the future, as more water systems try to cut costs by moving toward full automation,” Bloomberg BNA reported, citing federal aides.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology makes tools available to utilities to help assess cybersecurity risks.

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