Cyber-Attacks on Water Treatment Plants: Tips to Prevent Them

by Maisie

Over the last decade, industrial cyber assaults on water facilities have increased. This has resulted in worrying instances. Water system and treatment plant operators must be aware of the dangers of a cyberattack. Residents rely on a safe, reliable water supply. An unplanned outage would impair every element of life in the affected region.

Water treatment facilities are an important aspect of the local infrastructure. This is because they ensure that inhabitants have constant access to safe, clean water for cooking and other uses. However, hackers enjoy inflicting as much damage as possible while planning their operations. It’s no wonder that they’re now targeting water treatment plants.

Why Cyber Security Is Important in Water Treatment Plants

Large water systems may have dedicated IT workers monitoring the system. In small or medium-sized municipalities, the technical team may be responsible for all departments. Digital security may be lacking in these systems, which make up the majority of water infrastructure.

To avoid a large-scale disaster, cyber security for water operations should be at the top of the priority list. Various elements contribute to this problem. One element is the Increase in attack surface due to the convergence of IT and operational technology (OT) systems.

The increase of OT security devices used in industries such as the water treatment plants industry has made OT Cyber Security more important than ever. For example, water treatment plants rely on water monitoring that operates without disruption. Also, wireless OT security devices can help monitor and control systems such as heating, ventilation, and air in water treatment plants.

Tips to Help Prevent Cyber-Attacks on Water Treatment Plants

A municipal water system is a perfect target for prospective terrorists or hackers looking for a ransom. Criminals may take down water treatment plants and have a huge influence and impact on the broad population if security is poor. Some of the OT cyber security tips highly recommended to be applied to help prevent cyber-attacks are discussed below.

1. Education of Water Treatment Plant Workers

Plant managers should seriously consider establishing a staff education program. The program should cover the sorts of cyberattacks that the water sector is most likely to face. It should also cover mitigating techniques that anybody can use.

Workers should be educated on deceptive techniques used by hackers. Also that they should never disclose passwords. Also how to deactivate account access as soon as an employee departs the organization. Workers should also be educated on phishing. Cybercriminals have refined their methods, and phishing has evolved into targeted spear phishing.

Hackers use this method to find facts on social media or other sources that will give their emails more credibility. Users are more inclined to click or download things if they believe the email originates from a reliable source. Employees must be aware of how to prevent such scams. It just takes a few seconds to verify the identity of someone requesting sensitive information.

 2. Protect Attack Surfaces

The attack surface is the total number of sites, or attack vectors, by which an unauthorized person may gain access to a system. The easier it is to defend, the smaller the assault surface.

Water treatment plants must continually monitor their attack surface to promptly detect and block potential threats. To lower the likelihood of cyberattacks succeeding, they must also aim to limit the attack surface area. Attack surfaces can either be physical or digital.

The term “digital attack surface” refers to all of the hardware and software that connects to an organization’s network. Applications, code, ports, servers, and webpages are examples. Physical Attack Surface includes all endpoint devices to which an attacker has physical access, such as laptops

Attack surface management is essential for recognizing current and future hazards and enjoying the following benefits:

  • Determine high-risk regions that require vulnerability testing.
  • Identify any modifications or new attack vectors that have arisen as a result of the procedure.
  • Determine which categories of users have access to each system component.
  • Protect yourself against targeted cyberattacks by using anti-malware software.

3. Role-Based Access and Updating OT devices

Another technique to defend the water treatment plants is role-based access to the system. Employees should have access to information that is relevant to their job. A cybersecurity breach can be mitigated by restricting data access.

Also, updating all water treatment plant OT devices software can help prevent cyber-attacks. Because your operating system controls all of your computer’s functions, it might be a tempting target for hackers. Many built-in features in operating systems assist avoid assaults.

4. Through Monitoring of Water Treatment Plants

People, assets, and information in the monitoring and/or control of physical equipment, processes, and events may all be protected by OT security devices.

An OT cybersecurity technique known as anomaly detection can be used to monitor and identify the normal state of machines used in water treatment plants. And also to look for any deviations from this normal state. With monitoring, alerts and notifications can be triggered when defined thresholds are exceeded. Thus keeping IT equipment and network in water treatment plants safe.

5. Implement Zero-Trust Frameworks and Multifactor Authentication

The notion of “never trust, always verify” underpins a zero-trust architecture. Every person, device, application, and network is assumed to be a danger in this type of system. As a result, each of these entities must demonstrate its validity before being permitted to communicate.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) solutions, which require more than one form of identity verification, are often used. To authenticate identification, MFA typically uses three factors: something you know, something you have, and something you are. A PIN or the answers to a security question, a code from an authentication app, and a fingerprint are all examples of each. This additional layer of authentication is far more secure than regular credentials.


It takes more than having the appropriate equipment, utilizing the correct chemicals, or having a large enough personnel to ensure a water treatment facility runs well. These are critical considerations, but managers should also emphasize the security of internet-connected technologies.

More activities than those outlined here are required for efficient cyber-attack prevention in water plant treatments. The suggestions above, on the other hand, are good beginning points for future initiatives.

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