U.S. government reveals three extortionate attacks on wastewater treatment plants

U.S. government reveals three extortionate attacks wastewater treatment plants

A security bulletin released this week by the FBI, NSA, CISA and EPA states that ransomware broke into three American water and wastewater treatment plants in 2021.

The unreported attacks reportedly occurred in March, July and August this year, affecting businesses in Nevada, Maine and California. In the course of these incidents, the attackers encrypted the victims’ files, and in one case even damaged the computer used to control the industrial SCADA equipment that was used to operate the treatment facilities.

  • In March 2021, hackers used an unknown ransomware against WWS [water and wastewater] systems in Nevada. The attack affected the SCADA system and backup systems of the victim company. Fortunately, the SCADA system provided visibility and monitoring, but was not related to process control (ICS).
  • In July 2021, attackers gained remote access and injected the ZuCaNo ransomware on the SCADA computer of an unnamed WWS enterprise in Maine. The wastewater treatment plant operated in manual mode until the SCADA machine was rebuilt locally.
  • In August 2021, cybercriminals used Ghost malware against WWS, a California-based enterprise. The malware was in the system for about a month and was only discovered after three SCADA servers showed ransom notes.

All three incidents are listed by law enforcement officials as examples of what can happen if wastewater treatment plant operators ignore safety requirements and are unable to protect their computer networks.

At the same time, representatives of government agencies emphasize that, in general, they do not observe an increase in the number of attacks on water treatment plants and other water systems in the United States. But while attacks on other sectors are more common, water supply and sanitation systems are critical infrastructure and perform critical functions nationwide. Thus, the authors of the bulletin conclude that the security of such objects should correspond to the role they play.

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