By Tony DiMarco
Due to the catastrophe that would ensue if our nation's water supply were compromised, security for water distribution networks should be a top priority for all suppliers. A loss or contamination of water can quickly lead to large-scale emergencies and even deaths. Because it is part of our nation's critical infrastructure and is crucial for our survival as a people and a nation, the water supply is at high risk for being attacked by terrorists either physically or over the Internet via cyber attack.
In addition to cyber terrorism, Internet attacks are also being launched at utilities for monetary gain. Since a water utility cannot afford to experience a disruption in operation, attackers may use extortion techniques such as demanding money in exchange for not taking down the network. On top of insidious motives, security incidents can also occur by accident due to employee errors, equipment failures, natural disasters, etc.
Effective water utility security should consist of a well-integrated protection plan that covers both physical and cyber threats. As water distribution becomes more automated and involves more technology, the cyber piece becomes even more critical. Water utilities should not only engage experts to conduct vulnerability assessments on their technology infrastructure, but should also take additional measures such as:
1) identifying all critical assets
2) educating employees on security
3) developing and enforcing security policies
4) implementing proactive security technology such as firewalls, network access control and intrusion prevention systems
5) creating a standard plan for incident response.
Another key aspect to effective security is unified monitoring and control of the grid. For example, Intergraph smart grid technology enables the integration of physical security sensors and video analytics into a consolidated view of the entire distribution grid so that operators do not have to separately monitor numerous screens and applications to keep tabs on the network. This leads to better situational awareness and more informed decision making when it comes to responding to potential security threats or other issues.
In addition to simply protecting their water supplies, water utilities may also soon have additional reasons to make security a priority. For example, with the proliferation of smart grid and the increased exposure of distribution SCADA systems and smart meters to the Internet, government agencies and industry organizations are currently developing more advanced security policies for electricity suppliers, and it's only a matter of time before they turn to the water industry as well. Additionally, President Obama's increased focus on critical infrastructure protection is also sure to affect water utilities in the near future.
According to Water.org, at any given time, half of the world's hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from a water-related disease. This statistic alone points to the severe need for improved water infrastructure worldwide. However, without sound security plans and technologies in place, effective, resilient water infrastructure will continue to be just a "pipe" dream.
About the Author: Tony DiMarco is the Executive Director, Global Utilities & Communications, for Intergraph.
WaterWorld Online, May 2010