FOREIGN HACKERS target water infrastructure in Pennsylvania, prompting calls for increased cybersecurity
By Belle Carter // Jan 11, 2024

Foreign hackers recently targeted the water infrastructure of a city in Pennsylvania, prompting U.S. officials to call for increased cybersecurity measures against such attacks.

The Municipal Water Authority of Aliquippa (MWAA) in the city of Aliquippa became one of the least-suspecting victims of a cyberattack, believed to be done by the Iranian-backed "Cyber Av3ngers" group. According to federal authorities, the hackers shut down an Israel-made remotely controlled device that regulates water pressure at a pumping station.

The pumping station located on the outskirts of Aliquippa plays a crucial role in managing pressure for Raccoon and Potter Townships. Customers weren't affected because crews alerted by an alarm quickly switched to manual operation, but not every water authority has a built-in manual backup system. According to Fox News, the MWAA's infrastructure had no third-party safeguards from a cyberattack, both at its existing plant that dates to the 1930s or the new $18.5 million facility it is building.

"If you told me to list 10 things that would go wrong with our water authority, this would not be on the list," said MWAA Chairman Matthew Mottes. According to other officials, hackers are gaining control of automated equipment to shut down pumps that supply drinking water or contaminate drinking water by reprogramming automated chemical treatments. They added that aside from Iran, other potentially hostile geopolitical rivals such as China are viewed as a threat. (Related: CCP is embedding itself into U.S. utility infrastructure; Biden administration issues warning about situation they created.)

The calls to protect water systems from cyberattacks began in 2021 when the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, under the Department of Homeland Security, reported five attacks on water authorities over two years. Four of them were ransomware, while the last one was committed by a former employee.

Cyber Av3ngers also attacked Israel's railroad network in September, disclosing sensitive information about its electrical infrastructure. It also disabled the website of the BAZAN Group, Israel's largest oil refiner, in July.

Cybersecurity not a priority for water authorities

Water authority advocates have been pointing out that the sector badly needs the money and the expertise for the sector of more than 50,000 water utilities, where residents are of modest means and cybersecurity professionals are scarce. They also claimed that information technology security is the last thing on utilities' minds with more pressing issues, such as the upkeep of pipes and other water infrastructure.

Some bills pushing for cybersecurity in water systems also died in several states, including in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Public water authorities fought bills backed by private water companies, with the latter saying the proposals would force their public counterparts to abide by the stricter regulatory standards that they face from utility commissions.

Meanwhile, the demands of cybersecurity tend to fade into the background of more pressing needs for residents wary of rate increases: aging pipes and increasing costs to comply with clean water regulations. Pennsylvania State Sen. Katie Muth criticized a bill for lacking funding.

"People are drinking water that is below standards, but selling out to corporations who are going to raise rates on families across our state who cannot afford it is not a solution," Muth told colleagues during a floor debate on a 2022 bill.

State Rep. Rob Matzie, a Democrat whose district includes the MWAA, is working on legislation to create a funding stream to help water and electric utilities pay for cybersecurity upgrades after he looked for an existing funding source and found none. He said in an interview that the water authority doesn't have the money

Visit to read more about cyber attacks that threaten national security.

Watch the video of a warning about a pending nationwide cyberattack and civil war in 2024.

This video is from the High Hopes channel on

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