EPA Outlines Enforcement Measures to Help Prevent Cybersecurity Attacks and Protect the Nation’s Drinking Water

WASHINGTONToday, May 20, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an enforcement alert outlining the urgent cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities to community drinking water systems and the steps these systems need to take to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act. The alert is part of a government-wide effort – led by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency – to reduce the nation’s infrastructure and cybersecurity vulnerabilities. EPA is issuing this alert because threats to, and attacks on, the nation’s water system have increased in frequency and severity to a point where additional action is critical.

“Protecting our nation’s drinking water is a cornerstone of EPA’s mission, and we are committed to using every tool, including our enforcement authorities, to ensure that our nation’s drinking water is protected from cyberattacks,” said EPA Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe. “EPA’s new enforcement alert is the latest step that the Biden-Harris Administration is taking to ensure communities understand the urgency and severity of cyberattacks and water systems are ready to address these serious threats to our nation’s public health.”

Recent EPA inspections have revealed that the majority of water systems inspected – over 70 percent – do not fully comply with requirements in the Safe Drinking Water Act and that some of those systems have critical cybersecurity vulnerabilities, such as default passwords that have not been updated and single logins that can easily be compromised. As EPA and its state and federal security and intelligence partners continue to identify vulnerabilities, informed by successful cyberattacks to water systems across the United States, the agency remains committed to working with state and sector organization partners to successfully protect drinking water for communities.

Today’s alert emphasizes the importance of EPA’s ongoing inspection and enforcement activities under Safe Drinking Water Act section 1433. The agency will increase the number of planned inspections and, where appropriate, will take civil and criminal enforcement actions, including in response to a situation that may present an imminent and substantial endangerment. Inspections will ensure that water systems are meeting their requirements to regularly assess resilience vulnerabilities, including cybersecurity, and to develop emergency response plans. In addition, EPA, CISA, and the FBI strongly recommend system operators take steps outlined in Top Actions for Securing Water Systems:

Reduce exposure to public-facing internet.
Conduct regular cybersecurity assessments.
Change default passwords immediately.
Conduct an inventory of OT/IT assets.
Develop and exercise cybersecurity incident response and recovery plans.
Backup OT/IT systems.
Reduce exposure to vulnerabilities.
Conduct cybersecurity awareness training.

EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan also recently sent a letter to the nation’s governors on the urgency of the threats and the importance of collaboration across federal and state partners to develop comprehensive strategies to close gaps in cyber-resilience. Following the meeting, the National Security Council encouraged each state to prepare an action plan presenting the state’s strategy to mitigate the most significant cybersecurity vulnerabilities in the states’ water and wastewater systems by late June. EPA is also moving forward with the Water Sector Coordinating Council and Water Government Coordinating Council to establish a Task Force to identify additional near-term actions and strategies to reduce the risk of water and wastewater systems nationwide to cyberattacks.

EPA is committed to providing cybersecurity technical assistance to the water sector, allowing direct access to subject matter experts who can assist systems better understand cybersecurity concepts. Additionally, EPA and CISA will continue to offer guidance, tools, training, resources, and technical assistance to help water systems execute these essential tasks. EPA will also continue to conduct cyber assessments for small water systems under our Cybersecurity Evaluation program.

For more information about how the EPA protects America’s waterways, please visit the SDWA compliance monitoring web page and learn about the National Enforcement and Compliance Initiatives for FY 2024-2027. Also, find more information on Cybersecurity for the Water Sector.

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