Cybersecurity in the water sector: Analysis of the future evolution of the water and sewer infrastructure and associated cyber risks

Water infrastructures are undergoing enormous changes. Considering key challenges such as urbanization, climate change, ageing networks, and the transformation of the labour market, the modernization and digitization of urban water management and related infrastructures is essential. However, the introduction of networked and integrated digital solutions is leading to new cybersecurity issues. Increasing connectivity and automation creates vulnerabilities for malicious cyber activities. Since water and wastewater conveyance is a critical infrastructure which plays an essential role in maintaining vital societal functions, damage from natural disasters, terrorism, criminal acts or the like can have serious implications for the safety and well-being of residents.

In the project Cybersecurity, KWB evaluated the trends associated with the digitization of the water sector and shed light on the associated cyber risks. To accomplish this, a comprehensive literature review and an evaluation of upcoming technical developments, as well as interviews with experts in the water and sanitation sectors, were conducted.

KWB's research focused on five key development areas:

  1. Internet of Things (IoT) and smart sensors

  2. Artificial intelligence (AI) for the water industry

  3. Cloud migration

  4. Infrastructure transformation

  5. Smart Cities

In addition to their enormous potential, all of these areas also pose significant threats. To combat them, the water sector requires profound technical and organizational restructuring. 

Cybersecurity developed the following recommendations for action, which are described in more detail in the project report:

  • Improve the security of IoT components

  • Build AI-based advanced analytics for cybersecurity issues

  • Develop AI algorithms which capture the real-world behaviour of analysts

  • Reduce the limitations of AI and increase the reliability of predictions

  • Improve understanding of emerging security issues related to the convergence of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) systems

  • Support the shift of industrial control systems from stand-alone environments to cloud-based environments

  • Experiment with testbeds and simulation environments

  • Develop secure solutions to support the decentralization of infrastructure

  • Create a structural ontology for smart cities

  • Improve the security of urban data platforms

  • Avoid cascade effects and develop mitigation strategies

  • Develop flexible cybersecurity strategies for small and medium-sized operators

  • Strengthen local, regional and international cooperation in the water sector

  • Develop new and improved education and training programs and increase the attractiveness of the sector for IT and OT experts

 Our recommendations for action provide an ideal foundation for more resilient water infrastructures with higher cybersecurity. In doing so, we seek to contribute to the health and safety of people and the environment.


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