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States under pressure: Water systems' cyber defenses under scrutiny

  • States under pressure: Water systems' cyber defenses under scrutiny

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The U.S. EPA met with state and local officials from across the United States to discuss cybersecurity of the water sector last Thursday, following an invitation by the EPA to discuss how to improve digital defenses for the more than 150,000 utilities in the country.

“The nation’s water systems face cyber threats from criminals and countries alike,” said Anne Neuberger, Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technologies in an EPA press release published after the meeting. “We must lock our digital doors to meet the threat. The Biden-Harris Administration has issued cybersecurity best practices and made available free tools and services to help companies operating critical infrastructure act quickly.” 

The release highlighted officials from multiple states detailed measures aimed at safeguarding their water systems. Certain states voiced struggles in sourcing adequate technical expertise to handle cybersecurity vulnerabilities. In response, the EPA and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency offered insights into available resources for states to evaluate and mitigate cyber risks within their water systems.

At the meeting, Deputy National Security Advisor Anne Neuberger requested that each state share a cybersecurity plan by May 20, 2024

“Cybersecurity is not the sole responsibility of one single water system, one single state, or the federal government. Instead, cybersecurity is a collective responsibility,” said Janet McCabe, EPA Deputy Administrator. “EPA has an important role, and it’s critical that we work together with our state partners to help set a course toward cyber-resilience that will deliver essential protections across the country.”

At the meeting, Deputy National Security Advisor Anne Neuberger requested that each state share a cybersecurity plan by May 20, 2024. The cybersecurity plans should include details for how states are working with both drinking water and wastewater systems to determine where they are vulnerable to cyberattacks and what actions they are taking to build in cybersecurity protections. 

The EPA also shared details about its efforts in forming a Water Sector Cybersecurity Task Force, aimed at devising strategies to minimize the threat of cyberattacks targeting water systems.

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