How safe is our water supply from cyberattacks?

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The Florida hack was caught before anyone was hurt by it, but KX wanted to know: how safe is our local water supply from cybersecurity threats?

Our sister station WFLA in Tampa Florida reported earlier this month that a hacker altered the levels of chemicals in the water supply of a Florida city to ‘potentially damaging’ levels. A plant operator at a water treatment facility in Oldsmar, Florida noticed someone had remotely accessed the computer system he was monitoring and increased the sodium hydroxide levels in the city’s water substantially.

The hack was caught before anyone was hurt by it, but KX wanted to know: how safe is our local water supply from cybersecurity threats? So, we went to the Bismarck Water Treatment Plant to find out.

“We’re well aware of what happened in Florida, it definitely reached the news nationwide and it really is relevant for drinking water systems. Our drinking water system, it would not be possible to do the same type of activity.”

Director of Utility Operations for Bismarck Public Works Michelle Klose says the local system is safe.

“Multiple layers. Our system is separate from anything else. The communications is a stand-alone system. We do have the support making sure that we don’t have that remote access unless they have our specific authentification. So, there are a lot of protocols in place that actually prevent us from being hacked into from the outside.”

The plant’s system is not connected to any other computers. In other words, a hacker would not be able to log in to the system from their computer, wherever they are.

“A lot of things have changed and everything was manual back in the old day.

Plant Superintendant Jim Kershaw has been working at the plant for nearly 37 years.
One of his main priorities is constantly updating the (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) or SCADA system.

“Having the most updated stuff is probably a good answer and not having any type of file sharing protocol on there which is one of the issues that Florida had,” explained Kershaw.

“Cybersecurity is as important as any other risk that we’re trying to mitigate. Having anybody coming in and taking over controls of your operations is not a good thing for your water system it is really important to us to reduce any kind of risk whether it’s a natural disaster or cybersecurity,” explained Klose.

You can find more information on Bismarck’s water and sewer services on Bismarck Public Works webpage.

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