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Missouri DNR warns of water and wastewater cybersecurity threat amid Ukraine tensions

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JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri water and wastewater operators should beware of an increased cybersecurity risk amid rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine, according to state officials.

A Department of Natural Resources representative warned of the increased risk Thursday during a Water Protection Forum but said threats aren’t targeted specifically at the state.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources on Wednesday issued a warning to all water and wastewater system owners and operators in the state about the potential cybersecurity threat.

The warning originated from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Water Information Sharing and Analysis Center, which issued briefings on increased threats “due to current events between Russia and Ukraine.”

With the buildup of Russian troops at the Ukrainian border, officials have warned that a conflict may entail Russian cyberattacks targeting Ukraine’s NATO allies.

The agencies are encouraging owners and operators to “maintain a heightened awareness for possible intrusions into their operational networks and to prepare to maintain critical operations if process control networks are disabled.”

State Water Protection Program Director Chris Wieberg on Thursday spoke to the concerns about the alert at a Water Protection Forum, a workgroup hosted by DNR to discuss clean water issues with the public.

“It’s not unheard of for us to have situations occur where we have malicious activities targeting water and wastewater systems,” Wieberg said. “We’re crossing our fingers that this is not an issue for Missouri. But we’re at the same risk as everyone.”

In 2021, according to a Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency report, unidentified “cyber actors” broke into water and wastewater facilities’ networks in California, Maine and Nevada. After discovering the breaches, the threats were all removed from the systems.

Breaches like these can target system operations, affecting infrastructure such as valves or alarms, or attempt to access data.

Russian cyberattacks have previously breached U.S. infrastructure networks, as well as federal agencies.

DNR doesn’t currently have a point of contact for reports about the water and wastewater cybersecurity threats, Wieberg said, but will likely release contact details by Friday.

Specific recommendations to mitigate cyber risks are included in the DNR and EPA releases.

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