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Water, Water, Everywhere… But Not A Drop To Drink

Mike hit the snooze button one last time. “Ooof, is it already 4am?” he asked
himself. Dragging his bones out of his warm bed, he hit the shower, guzzled some
freshly brewed coffee and made his way to the plant. It was a normal morning,
early as hell, but a normal morning. Traffic was light, Mike jammed out to some
NPR along the way, and then pulled into the plant parking lot. The smell of liquid
chlorine and other fun chemicals wafted through the air, a very familiar smell..

Mike made his way to the makeshift office down the hall and high fived Billy, the
previous shift on his way there. “Make it a great one Mike” Billy said as he kept
walking towards the exit. It was quiet at the plant, no one else there to bug him,
no boss man barking orders, just Mike, some controls, some knobs, bells, whistles,
the sound of flowing water, and a monitor screen from 1994. It wasn’t a bad job at
all, well, except for the ungodly hours.

The sound of constantly gushing water finally got to Mike, he had to hit the head.
He headed to the restroom, closed the door, and all of a sudden heard about a
million alarms go off. The plant sprang to life with obnoxious warbles, flashy red
lights, and all kinds of other fun alarming noises. Mike washed his hands, and
sprinted back to the control center. On the 1994 monitor, all he saw was code
streaming on the screen. It wasn’t their code, it wasn’t their normal operating
system. The water plant was under a cyber attack. Scrambling, Mike remembered
his training and protocols and was able to cut the hacker off from the system.

This scenario is happening more and more. In fact, in 2021, a water treatment plant
in Oldsmar Florida came under a cyberattack where the hacker attempted to alter
the chemicals that were treating the water supply. This is terrifying, and is
sometimes an easy target for hackers. Part of the challenge here is that some of the
plants use extremely antiquated software systems. Also, user error can be to
blame. Maybe a software update didn’t happen that is paramount to network
security, maybe a network switch hasn’t been patched lately, maybe, the operating

system had several exploits because it was so old. The point is, cyber punks will
always go after the easiest target, even targets that we wouldn’t think of.

As our infrastructure ages, it’s paramount that agencies like the Department of
Homeland Security and the Environmental Protection Agency get actively involved
in planning, establishing guidelines for IT security, and ensuring that information
sharing is available for all potential threats. Recently, WaterISAC (Water Information
Sharing and Analysis Center) was established to help keep wastewater and water
treatment plants up to snuff on threats, provide them with best practices, and keep
everyone in the loop. Cyber thugs pride themselves on being a few steps ahead, so
it’s time to ensure that we’re on our toes and working proactively to keep our water
safe, our power plants safe, sewage systems, etc.

The watchful and proactive team at ASSI is here to help your city/municipality stay
ahead of the cyber thugs. We’ve partnered with cities throughout Florida to keep
their IT infrastructure up to date, monitored, and ready to counter any threat that
might be looming in the cyber shadows. Give us a call today at 407-414-6626 to
discuss your needs, oh, and relax. We’re on IT.