Ten years from now, global water shortages are likely to threaten U.S. security interests. Ask the Director of National Intelligence, the Defense Intelligence Agency or someone from the Central Intelligence Agency; better yet, read the most recent National Intelligence Estimate. According to a senior U.S. intelligence official who briefed reporters on this issue (on condition of anonymity), there is an increasing likelihood that water will be “potentially used as a weapon, where one state denies access to another.”
There comes a time when sharing too much information is a dangerous thing, and this is what the Environmental Protection Agency is about to do. In June, the EPA plans to establish Internet access for the public to view the non-Off-site Consequence Analysis (non-OCA) sections of the water sector’s Risk Management Plans (RMPs). The announcement from the Office of Emergency Management cites burdens associated with Freedom of Information Act requests and a need from the FBI and others for greater access to non-OCA data. Here are my two biggest problems with what EPA plans to do.
Following the recent attention given to the water sector’s vulnerability to cyber intrusion, there’s been a lot of talk about what went wrong, whose fault it was and why changes need to be made in the sector. However, the challenge in addressing the water sector’s cyber security posture isn’t in outlining existing problems, but rather in generating realistic, affordable and timely solutions to mitigate them. My concern is that we may just keep talking about the problem without actually doing anything about it.
As happy/relieved as I am to know that the Russians aren’t out to disrupt our water services, it is important to note that a water system in South Houston was the victim of a real cyber attack. (You’ll recall it occurred in direct response to DHS downplaying of the reported situation in Illinois).The would-be attack, and the actual one, are stark reminders that the threat of cyber attacks are real.
According to multiple reports last week, a Russian-based hacker launched a cyber attack on a drinking water utility in Illinois that destroyed one of its water pumps. Not only does this mark the first successful international cyber attack on U.S. critical infrastructure, but it’s going to serve as a rallying cry for adversaries and idiots everywhere to try taking down drinking water and wastewater systems. Simply put, this attack is a game changer.
With cameras rolling, lights blaring and an intent audience before me, I took to the stage at FEMA’s National Recovery and Resiliency Exercise Conference last Wednesday, ready to rock that crowd. That is until an ordinary-looking 23-year-old guy named Dakota Meyer grabbed the microphone and shook me (and everyone else in the room) to my core. This Mr. “Ordinary” is a decent-looking blond dude, but like each of us, it’s what he’s got on the inside that makes his story exceptional. He drove into battle to save his fellow soldiers, saving lives and winning the Medal of Honor in the process.
In response to a recent DHS report citing concerns about the ability of insiders to cause significant damage at water utilities, Sen. Chuck Schumer is set to introduce legislation that would mandate FBI background checks for employees at drinking water and wastewater plants. While I understand Senator Schumer’s logic, Congress would be wise to hit the “pause” button before introducing new regulatory mandates so it can reexamine our current national approach to addressing water security.
Last week, I wrote a blog post, The Final ‘Frontier’ in Corporate Shame, which focused on Frontier Airlines’ lack of sensitivity concerning the accommodation of first-responders during times of national crisis. To their credit, Frontier Airlines has since recognized that there are internal gaps within their corporate policies that prevent them from providing better service to those responding to recognized catastrophes.
As a Life Flight helicopter pilot residing just outside of Joplin, Missouri; my father-in-law knew he would be needed to help airlift critically wounded victims of the recent tornado to nearby medical facilities. What he didn’t know is that according to Frontier Airlines, his duty to save lives isn’t as important as their corporate refund policy. This speaks to a larger issue. More and more there is a greater recognition that in the realm of homeland security, there are no bystanders.