With Cyberattacks Still on the Rise, Security Solutions Abound for Utility Districts

With a recent report from the FBI showing a 69% increase in cybercrime between 2019 and 2020, it should come as no surprise that such attacks cost US governmental entities just shy of $19 million last year. Most worrisome is that these attacks have not only increased in frequency but in intensity as well, targeting vital aspects of American infrastructure—from oil companies to police departments. Perhaps one of most concerning instances, and one that seemed to fly under the radar, is the water plant that was hacked in Oldsmar, FL back in February.

Hackers managed to find a way to exploit a remote-access loophole that allowed them to increase the amount of lye (used to manage pH levels) fed into the water system. Luckily, this was caught by an employee and quickly reversed. But the fact that an entire city’s water system could be hijacked and even poisoned is incredibly worrisome. There is a silver lining, however. This attack has highlighted the fact that many utility companies are working with outdated IT and OT (Operational Technology) systems that have evolved independently from one another and created an exploitable, technological gap. Technology companies have been working to close these “air-gaps”, though, and provide options for new systems that combine IT and OT systems into a single, secure, and cohesive utility infrastructure.

While not every utility district has the funds to fully upgrade their IT and OT infrastructure, there are some more affordable options available. GovTech recommends starting with firewall software to block unauthorized traffic, whereas American City & County notes prioritizing rapid restore capabilities as one of the best ways to get back up and running after a cyberattack, especially in the case of ransomware. Another option is to switch to cloud-based computing software that emphasizes security by only allowing encrypted and secure connections from safe and approved sources, and that employs backup redundancy as a bulwark against a variety of digital disasters, such as BMS Cloud Hosting for Utility Billing.

Today, the world is wired, and that level of connection brings with it the potential for danger and the promise of security. The cycle between bad actors looking to exploit vulnerabilities and security experts working to thwart their efforts is a symbiotic one that has culminated in a 21st century that is rife with affordable solutions that can be employed to protect our communities. So be proactive; there’s never been a better time to explore your entity’s options.

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