Cybersecurity Threat to Water Treatment Plants

Clean water has been a necessity for mankind for as long as anyone could remember. In fact, ancient civilisations are built around bodies of water to help them survive and thrive. Thus, the importance of clean water sources cannot be emphasised enough.

Even a few days of failed water treatment facility operations can deal damage to millions of people. And because of how important it is for the human race, it has sadly been a target of numerous cyber-terrorist attacks.

Water system and treatment plant operators need to be aware of the dangers of a cyberattack. Thankfully, OT cybersecurity can be used to safeguard water treatment plants and facilities from cyberattacks. But how can you implement it? Let’s find out.

Why Water Treatment Plants are Prone to Cyberattacks?

As technology evolves, most industries, including water facilities implement machine automation. These machines are usually controlled in a central system for easier operation management. Sadly, this innovation, although poses more benefits, has caused water treatment plants to be vulnerable to cyberattacks.

A cyberattack is an attempt by cybercriminals to disable, damage, or seize for ransom significant digital assets. These include files, records, or documentation, which are necessary for the operation of vital systems. In terms of water facilities, the main goal of these attacks is to disrupt operations. This includes water treatment, storage facilities, and distribution networks.

These digital assets are frequently essential for the target business to carry out routine, everyday tasks. As a result, a successful attack can result in a significant organisational outage.

Why Should OT Cybersecurity Be a Priority for Water Systems?

OT cybersecurity is a security technique that aids a business in defending its digital systems against a cyberattack. It also refers to the methods and services used to safeguard the infrastructure, users, and data of OT.

Despite being crucial, water systems rarely attract attention unless something goes wrong. However, a municipal water system becomes a perfect target for potential terrorists or hackers looking for a ransom. Low security makes it possible for thieves to affect a large population with little effort and expense.

Large water systems may have dedicated IT workers to manage the system. But there may be no digital security for the majority of water infrastructure’s rural systems. Sometimes, one IT manager would look after the requirements of multiple water systems.

The following is a look at why cybersecurity in the water treatment industry warrants more protection:

1. Attack Risk in the Sector Is Elevated

A water treatment facility is theoretically easier to attack than other infrastructure. This is because of its fragmentation and size.

Some water treatment facilities in cities employ specialised OT cybersecurity professionals. However, people who live in remote locations might only have a small number of workers altogether. And they might have no cybersecurity experts.

2. Employee Vulnerability

Employees in water facilities are susceptible to ransomware attacks. A ransomware attack might take months to fully restore all services and operations. Employees in water facilities would benefit from knowing what types of cyberattacks could affect them. They should also know what steps to take to reduce the likelihood of future issues.

OT Cybersecurity Techniques for Preventing Attacks

Planning is necessary to prevent a cybersecurity breach. Every year, more and more ransomware assaults occur. Furthermore, the sophistication and targeting of these intrusions are increasing. Without a security plan, a municipality won’t be adequately safeguarded.

The greatest technique to improve cybersecurity at a water treatment facility is not one specific method. However, following these recommendations can help make improvements.

1. Security Education

Security education is the first step toward digital security. With security education, wide-reaching phishing schemes no longer deceive the majority of users. They are aware of the risks involved in downloading files or clicking links in unsolicited emails.

The broad kind of phishing has evolved into targeted spear phishing as thieves have perfected their methods. Hackers use this technique to find information on social media or from other sources that will give their emails more authority.

Users are more inclined to open links or download files if they believe the source of the email to be reliable. Workers must understand how to avoid these scams. It doesn’t take long to verify the identity of someone asking for private information.

2. Whitelisting Websites

Every day, successful cyberattacks occur, and it’s only a matter of time before a worker clicks on the wrong website. Most businesses adopt the strategy of blocking access to websites with objectionable content or time-wasting websites. A more proactive approach to safety is to restrict access to only a small number of whitelisted sites.

3. Perform Software Updates or Patching

Some cyberattacks take advantage of flaws in software infrastructure. However, when they find a fault, developers are continually fixing their goods. In a few recent instances, hackers exploited security holes in Java products that were well-known and had existed for ten years. The organisations concerned, however, had never upgraded to the most secure version.

Updating the software and tools you use is necessary to ensure all-around OT cybersecurity protection and avoid loopholes like this.

4. Adopt a Zero-Trust Approach and Role-Based Access

Limiting access helps cybersecurity concerns. Access should never be automatically extended to anyone, not even the most senior worker at a plant. These safety measures are required due to the potential consequences of attack success.

Another method of system protection is role-based access. Depending on their position within the company, employees ought to have access to certain information. Data access restrictions will lessen the impact of a cybersecurity breach.

It is advisable to implement the least privilege and use what is known as a “zero trust” strategy to help lockdown vital systems. OT cybersecurity admins can request temporary elevation of privileges through self-service workflows. By confirming the identity of the requester, the context of the request, and the risk of the access environment, the risk of a breach is reduced.

5. Identify Entry Points and Assets

It is crucial to be aware of IT assets. water facility managers should still make every effort to locate every IT asset that hackers might use. then they can evaluate each one to decide the best preventative actions to take. OT solutions provide asset management which makes asset discovery easier

6. Remote Monitoring Systems

An approach to safeguard water treatment facilities is a remote monitoring system like SCADA. When managers set up the system to automatically send alerts, they will be notified as soon as something unusual occurs. If a remote actor attempts to cause issues, the system may even shut down some of its components.

7. Password Management

An effective password can stop unauthorised access to networks and devices in water plants. When working with sensitive information, it is advised to always turn on password protection.

Your security will definitely benefit from having unique passwords set up for each application you use. Employees should change them frequently to keep both internal and external threats well-protected.

8. Putting in a Firewall

Another crucial step in protecting water system devices from unwanted attacks is the use of a firewall. You can stop unauthorised access to your computers and network with a reliable firewall that guards against the compromise of your data.

Furthermore, it provides you with improved protection against viruses and malware. A firewall will not permit anything suspicious or harmful to enter your private network if it is discovered trying to do so from the internet.


A water treatment facility’s efficiency depends on more than just applying the appropriate chemicals, or employing sizable personnel. It is also important to keep internet-connected devices secure.

As newer technology is being introduced in many industries due to its benefits, it is as important to make sure that firewalls and OT cybersecurity protocols are in place to prevent breaches and cyberattacks.