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Time for utilities to review and bolster security measures

On Friday, the Eagle ran a story that raised questions about cybersecurity weaknesses in public utilities.

The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued the warning Tuesday evening, three days after hacktivists shut down a piece of equipment at the Municipal Water Authority of Aliquippa in neighboring Beaver County. The hack effectively idled pumping equipment in a remote station that regulates water pressure for customers in two nearby towns. Crews switched to manual backup, officials said.

The attackers likely accessed the device by exploiting cybersecurity weaknesses, including poor password security and exposure to the internet, U.S. officials said.

While this breach didn’t cause trouble for our power, gas or water services here in Butler County, the next one could. The people and businesses who rely on the water authority in Beaver County were lucky crews were able to switch to manual backup. But still, we need to question whether our local and regional utilities are prepared for such an occasion.

We all get frustrated when it’s time for mandatory password changes. It’s near constant that we’re being told the password we’ve chosen isn’t secure enough. Until you’ve turned the Bill of Rights into an ambigram, your online accounts will not be safe.

But we do need to take it seriously. It could very well be that if the water authority had a stronger password, the hacktivists would not have been successful.

The story in the Eagle on Friday continued: The Biden administration has been trying to shore up cybersecurity in U.S. critical infrastructure — more than 80% of which is privately owned — and has imposed regulations on sectors including electric utilities, gas pipelines and nuclear facilities.

These efforts are not an invitation to simplify your passwords.

There may soon come a day when we go to turn on the water tap or flip on a light or click up the thermostat and nothing happens. These things we take for granted are not guaranteed, and they are at real risk.

What are the utilities doing to prevent that?

– RJ

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