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10 Security Risks and Threats in the Water and Wastewater Management

Is your business in the water and wastewater industry? If so, you need to be aware of the cyber security risks and threats that could put your operations in peril. From infiltrations and data breaches to malicious activity, cyber threats are on the rise in the water industry.

Control systems can be in danger from many different places. Cyberattacks are always a risk for industrial control systems (ICS). Most industrial control tools are now connected to the Internet in some way. Because of this technology and connection, ICS and OT are now vulnerable to attacks. 

Introduction to ICS Cybersecurity

Industrial Control Systems (ICS) Cybersecurity is essential for industries, such as the water and wastewater industries, to protect themselves from cyberattacks. As our digital world continues to expand rapidly, so does the threat of cyberattacks. 

Without a proper security system in place, companies are at risk of having their systems and processes compromised by hackers. With industrial cybersecurity, organizations can protect their vital information from being stolen or disrupted by malicious actors.

ICS cybersecurity encompasses a comprehensive suite of tools and technologies to protect against threats from external attackers as well as internal mistakes. It includes network defense techniques such as firewalls and malware detection systems, as well as techniques for detecting suspicious behavior and responding to incidents quickly. 

Additionally, it also implements two-factor authentication protocols and identity management solutions to ensure only authorized personnel have access to sensitive information. By deploying ICS Cybersecurity solutions across multiple layers of an organization’s infrastructure, companies can drastically reduce the chances of falling prey to malicious actors’ attacks.

Potential Risks and Threats in the Water and Wastewater Industries

As the water and wastewater industries look to adopt more connected technology, it is important to remember that these new technologies also come with cyber security risks and threats. From malicious actors looking to disrupt operations to a lack of awareness or resources when it comes to security best practices and protocols, the water industry needs to take proactive steps toward protecting its networks and data.

Some of the potential cyber security risks and threats in the water industry include:

  1. Old Systems

Many Industrial Control Systems have constructed decades ago when cybersecurity was not a priority. It can be challenging to layer current security on top of legacy infrastructure. 

Similarly, the software that ICS uses is frequently outdated and lacks many of the security capabilities that modern software may support, such as strong authentication, encryption, and protection against web application threats such as cross-site scripting or SQL injection.

  1. Lack of Visibility

If security was not established when the ICS was built, as is common with most vintage systems, hardware and software visibility are lacking. This makes monitoring and log management difficult, if not impossible, and limits auditing capabilities.

  1. Unpatched or Outdated Systems.

System patching necessitates downtime. However, because they provide important functions, the systems being updated are frequently unable to be taken offline. To make matters worse, many legacy ICS lacks automatic failover. Many businesses do not patch their systems for these reasons. Critical security flaws can result, opening the door to future breaches.

  1. ICS and IT system integration

In most cases, ICSes and operational technology (OT) systems are managed and administered by a separate team from the IT department. When ICSs are improved, they necessitate greater IT skills. IT/OT integration necessitates reorganization, rethinking, and a more effective exchange of information, all of which might cause friction.

  1. Developing a Business Case for ICS Security

Investing in ICS security necessitates a compelling business case. Unlike corporate expenditures, the cost and return on ICS security spending are difficult to quantify. Managers should measure the value of ICS security investments using loss prevention rather than ROI.

  1. Malware

In the past, infecting ICSs with malware required a physical hazard, such as putting an infected USB drive into the ICS. By connecting ICSs to the internet, the threat of malware has grown.

ICSs, like other systems, must be safeguarded against malware and other cyber assaults. Triton and Stuxnet are two examples of malware that particularly targeted ICSes, but other types of malware are equally dangerous. Worms, Trojan horses, ransomware, wiper malware, and other hazards must be avoided. DDoS attacks and botnets are also common dangers.

  1. Persistent and Long-lasting Threats

Because ICS visibility is limited, breaches can remain undetected for an extended period. This allows bad actors to obtain and exploit vital information.

  1. Lateral IT and ICS Assaults

Attacks can propagate laterally across both networks unless ICS and IT systems are correctly and safely integrated.

  1. Enabling Extended Update Mode

In this attack, malicious actors break into an ICS and activate the firmware update mode on a sensor or device. However, the firmware upgrade is never completed, and the hardware is placed in a holding condition. Attackers take advantage of this by disabling the device’s usual operations, such as process monitoring, leaving the attacker free to infiltrate the device and system.

  1. Default Credentials and Settings

Attackers utilize default or hardcoded usernames and passwords for manufactured devices to get access to a company’s ICS network.

How to Reduce ICS Security Risks and Challenges

To prevent, identify, and mitigate the aforementioned concerns, take the following steps:

  • Conduct a basic threat assessment. Examine the configurations, patch status, publicly revealed vulnerabilities, and other potential concerns, and put a plan in place to address them.
  • Turn off or restrict access. Limit or eliminate device access (both inline and administrative) unless a proven requirement exists.
  • Perform tabletop exercises. Simulate outages caused by malware, DoS, or other attacks to test the mitigation mechanisms in place.
  • Information should be shared between the IT and OT teams. Ensure that the IT and operations teams have the knowledge they need to raise cybersecurity awareness and accountability.
  • Make use of industry knowledge bases. Utilize businesses like Mitre to provide IT professionals with the information they require to oversee ICS security.
  • Audits should be carried out. Schedule regular system scans to detect unpatched software, administrative privileges, unsecured setups, and other potential security flaws.
  • Change the default credentials supplied by the manufacturer. To prevent unwanted access, change the default admin username and password on each device.

Guidelines for Implementing an Effective Cybersecurity Program

You might know that cyber threats exist in the water and wastewater industries, but do you know what it takes to protect your critical systems against them? It’s essential to implement a robust cybersecurity program that ensures the security of operational processes and infrastructure.

One important way to protect against cyber threats is to develop guidelines for implementing an effective cybersecurity program:

  1. Establish a risk management process: Develop a framework that assesses potential risks and consequences and maps out the necessary steps for protection.
  2. Identify the assets at risk: Identify which systems and data are vulnerable, as well as which types of attacks might affect them.
  3. Implement security measures: Implement access control measures, authentication procedures, encryption techniques, firewalls, and other appropriate security measures for communication networks, devices, workstations, and applications.
  4. Train personnel: Make sure personnel are aware of their responsibilities regarding system security and are adequately trained on security policies, procedures, and controls.
  5. Monitor systems: Regularly monitor systems for any suspicious activity or suspicious changes in configuration settings or data files.
  6. Establish incident reporting protocols: Establish protocols to detect and respond to potential cyber incidents to minimize the damage they may cause or prevent them from occurring in the first place.
  7. Adapt measures based on changing threats: Be prepared to update your system according to changing threats by regularly testing your security solutions and updating protocols when needed.

By following these guidelines when implementing an effective cybersecurity program in the water and wastewater industry, you can help protect yourself against potential risks while ensuring the safety of large populations who rely on clean drinking water every day.


The water and wastewater industry is facing a rapidly increasing number of cyber threats, but with the right safeguards in place, it can protect against these risks. ICS cybersecurity solutions are designed to provide a comprehensive security system to protect industrial organizations as efficiently as possible. 

By implementing solutions like secure configuration management and data protection, organizations can protect vital infrastructure and keep their operations running smoothly. Moreover, training staff and raising their awareness of the risks can help to further secure the industry and minimize the chances of malicious cyberattacks.


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