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City of Fairmont half way there in assessing vulnerability to cyberattacks

By Madelyn Moore, Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT, W.Va. — The West Virginia Public Service Commission is overseeing an initiative to conduct cybersecurity assessments of water and sewer facilities statewide.

The assessments follow an increase in threats to vital U.S. infrastructure, such as water facilities, in the last couple of years. The threats have been found on the national, state and local level.

“The Commission will require all water and sewer utilities to obtain a cyber threat vulnerability assessment. Once an assessment is complete, a water or sewer utility will be required to develop a plan to address cyber threats,” the official PSC order states.

The PSC received this order from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA also issues directives related to cybersecurity.

“They are asking mainly how our information is handled with things like our SCADA systems,” John Carson, Director of Utilities for Fairmont, said.

Protecting these systems is vital.

“Water utilities often rely on computer software to operate treatment plants and distribution systems, protecting information technology and process controls is crucial,” the EPA has stated.

Fairmont recently completed the investigation of its water filtration plant and an assessment is currently being scheduled for the wastewater plant.

For West Virginia, these cybersecurity assessments are particularly important. Last January, the city of Beckley was the victim of a cyberattack. According to a Facebook post from the city following the incident, there was a breach of the city’s computer network.

“These utilities that have been hacked in the last year, that is what’s driving all of this,” Carson said.

Cyberattacks like the one in Beckley are more prevalent than ever, and although this breach involved one on their networks, the attacks are evolving to encompass more. “More recently, attackers haven’t just gone after websites, they’ve targeted utilities’ operations instead,” the Associated Press states.

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