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Government sets out cyber security strategy for water sector

The government has published a cyber-security strategy for the water sector, summarising what water and sewerage companies need to do to reduce the risks of cyber attacks.

Published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the strategy is mainly aimed at water and sewerage companies in England, and focuses on attacks based around computers, computerised systems or networks.

It says there are “credible cyber threats to UK critical national infrastructure, including the water sector”, and that these could lead to “serious consequences, particularly as increased automation and connectivity reduces the scope for standalone or manual operation of the water supply system.”

Recent reviews by government cyber experts have identified significant opportunities for the water sector to operate at a higher level of cyber-security maturity.

The water-specific strategy is part of a government-wide response to the cyber threat, which complements the National Cyber-Security Strategy (2016). The strategic vision and objectives have incorporated significant contributions from the sector and aim to guide activities across the sector, including water companies and government. It aims to achieve a vision by 2021 of a “secure, effective, and confident water sector, resilient to an ever-evolving cyber threat.”

Key objectives within the strategy include understanding the threats; managing the risk from these threats; managing any incidents that arise in the best way possible; and developing capabilities to increase future resistance and build cyber skills.

The cyber risk reviews identified a number of key areas in which the sector should focus its cyber-security activities.

One of these is the architectural design/separation of Information Technology (IT) and Operational Technology (OT). The paper says that ideally IT and OT systems or networks should be completely separated to prevent infections in IT systems spreading and impacting processes that could cause physical damage.

It also flags up the cyber risk from third parties, with company networks increasingly accessed by third parties such as equipment suppliers, software suppliers and contractors who require the ability to upload software onto systems, make alterations and plug their equipment into the host network.

The paper says policies need to be in place to manage this risk, for instance by restricting the number of people with external accesses to a network and ensuring that devices plugged in to the host network are not carrying malware.

The strategy policy paper can be downloaded here.