Ransomware | Effective Countermeasure for the Water Sector

Rural Water News,

Tim Davis, Division of Drinking Water DIrector, has put out a document outlining important ransomware countermeasures. We advise everyone to read through the following information and follow its suggestions. Cybersecurity attacks are on the rise, and it is up to you to keep your systems safe.

The Following information was written by Tim Davis (Director, Division of Drinking Water)
Dear Water Professional:
Drinking water is essential to every community in Utah. In recent months, an increased number of ransomware attacks have occurred against U.S critical infrastructure, including targeted attacks against the water sector. Ransomware as defined by DHS’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is “an ever-evolving form of malware designed to encrypt files on a device, rendering any files and the systems that rely on them unusable.” Cybercriminals and state actors will leverage this technique to block access to these resources or threaten to publish any private or protected information to the public unless a ransom is paid. 
The Division of Drinking Water is sending you the following information from the EPA to communicate steps that you can take to protect yourselves and the people you serve. Our ask is that you please review and follow the steps outlined in this memo to protect your system from ransomware attacks. Additionally, if you suspect that your organization is the victim of a ransomware attack please contact local law enforcement or CISA (central@cisa.dhs.gov).
In response to the pervasive ransomware threat, Anne Neuberger, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology, issued the memo, What We Urge You to Do to Protect Against the Threat of Ransomware, in which she outlines five best cybersecurity practices. The EPA Office of Water urges all water and wastewater facilities to adopt these basic practices to reduce the risk of a successful ransomware attack: 
  1. Backup your data, system images, and configurations, regularly test them, and keep the backups offline: Ensure that backups are regularly tested and that they are not connected to the business network, as many ransomware variants try to find and encrypt or delete accessible backups. Maintaining current backups offline is critical because if your network data is encrypted with ransomware, your organization can restore systems.
  2. Update and patch systems promptly: This includes maintaining the security of operating systems, applications, and firmware, in a timely manner. Consider using a centralized patch management system; use a risk-based assessment strategy to drive your patch management program.
  3. Test your incident response plan: There’s nothing that shows the gaps in plans more than testing them. Run through some core questions and use those to build an incident response plan: Are you able to sustain business operations without access to certain systems? For how long? Would you turn off your manufacturing operations if business systems such as billing were offline?
  4. Check Your Security Team’s Work: Use a 3rd party (CISA will do this for free) to test the security of your systems and your ability to defend against a sophisticated attack. Many ransomware criminals are aggressive and sophisticated and will find the equivalent of unlocked doors.
  5. Segment your networks: There’s been a recent shift in ransomware attacks – from stealing data to disrupting operations. It’s critically important that your corporate business functions and manufacturing/production operations are separated and that you carefully filter and limit internet access to operational networks, identify links between these networks and develop workarounds or manual controls to ensure industrial control networks can be isolated and continue operating if your corporate network is compromised. Regularly test contingency plans such as manual controls so that critical functions can be maintained during a cyber incident.
CISA has created a website that contains a collection of resources devoted to preventing ransomware attacks:
In addition, EPA has a cybersecurity website tailored to the water sector:
If you have questions regarding any of the information contained in this email, please contact David Travers, Water Security Division, USEPA (travers.david@epa.gov) or the Utah Division of Drinking Water (801) 536-4200.
Thank you,
Tim Davis
Director, Division of Drinking Water