| Cybersecurity: AWWA expert urges utility preparedness
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Cybersecurity: AWWA expert urges utility preparedness

Robert WaltersNote: Cybersecurity Awareness Month has been observed in October for 18 years to raise awareness and promote resources for online safety and security. This year’s theme is “Do Your Part. #BeCyberSmart.” AWWA leaders and experts such as Robert Walters work to help strengthen the water sector’s security and resilience. They also analyze and incorporate the latest information to provide members with up-to-date, water-sector-focused cybersecurity guidance and resources.

Professional background: Vice President, Construction and Engineering, at Davidson Water Inc., a private non-profit cooperative utility in Lexington, N.C. Appointed by the North Carolina governor to the state’s Water Operator Certification Board for eight years, including three years as chairman. Certified water operator.

Water sector cybersecurity involvement: Immediate Past Chair of the Water Sector Coordinating Council, which coordinates and collaborates with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other government agencies on water sector issues concerning critical infrastructure security and resilience. Member of the board of managers for the Water Information Sharing and Analysis Center (WaterISAC).

AWWA involvement: Member of the Water Utility Council; AWWA Life Member and George Fuller Award recipient; past AWWA vice president; past chair, director and trustee, North Carolina Section. 

How does AWWA support the sector in addressing cyber risks? AWWA has developed documents and manuals to assist, guide and inform utilities about cyber issues and how to stay more secure. AWWA’s Cybersecurity Guidance and Assessment Tool have been recognized by EPA, DHS, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and several states for aiding water systems in evaluating cybersecurity risks. These tools are a valuable resource for all systems, including small utilities that don’t have staff to dedicate to cyber issues. I believe AWWA is committed to helping all water and wastewater utilities to stay secure.  

What initial steps should utilities take to guard against cyber-attacks? Water and wastewater utilities should follow the 15 Cybersecurity Fundamentals for Water and Wastewater Utilities published by WaterISAC. They also should conduct a Risk and Resilience Assessment required by the American Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA). This includes assessing all their computer systems, including SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition). They also should review the document and budget the recommended items to increase their cyber security. I encourage utilities to join WaterISAC, which collaborates with DHS, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and EPA to stay on top of the latest cyber issues and other security threats. WaterISAC has a tremendous online library and partners with the major water associations, including AWWA.  

Robert and Dana at Crater LakeWhy should water/wastewater organizations make cybersecurity a priority? A water utility touches many people’s lives in the community and contributes to public and environmental health. We as water professionals are also health professionals and environmentalists. Cyber-attacks pose serious risks to interrupting this service. A cyber incident could greatly affect a community for a long period of time by impacting drinking water quality or discharge at the wastewater treatment plant, or by creating a system shutdown.   

What are the latest trends in water sector cyber-attacks? Ransomware has been an issue at many utilities. Cyber-attacks also include hacking into systems and affecting chemical feeds, valve closers and pump speeds, to name a few. These incidents can result in very expensive repairs.

Why is cybersecurity becoming increasingly important? Worldwide, cyber issues are becoming more prevalent. They range from a young person learning how to hack in their bedroom at home, to Nation State-sponsored hacking and ransomware infecting companies and government computer systems.    

Sloan and Sawyer WaltersAs an AWWA member, how have you benefited from its resources and your involvement? I have greatly benefited professionally and personally by becoming a volunteer and getting involved. As a volunteer you have your hand on the pulse of the water industry. You have tremendous access to resources and learn what is available. You meet and work with people who will be your friends for life. You learn that AWWA’s mission is for the betterment of all utilities.    

Please describe your family and/or hobbies and interests: I have a wonderful wife and friend, Dana (pictured above with Robert at Crater Lake), and we like to travel and adventure to places we’ve not visited before and spend time with family. We have 28-year-old twin sons (pictured right). Sawyer, a Professional Engineer, works in water resources and is married to our wonderful daughter in-law, Amanda. Sloan is a medical student, currently working on an MBA to go along with an M.D. I am a foodie and a cook and love great, creative food and drink.