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America’s Enemies Can Cyberattack Our Drinking Water

On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sounded a stern alarm with an enforcement alert highlighting a dire vulnerability in America’s heartland—our community drinking water systems are under cyberattack. According to the EPA, a staggering 70% of these systems are not fully compliant with the Safe Drinking Water Act, a gap that has left them exposed to potentially catastrophic cyber intrusions.

The EPA’s findings are unsettling: default passwords left unchanged, ubiquitous use of single logins, and systems awkwardly exposed to the public-facing internet. These are not just administrative oversights; they are open invitations to enemies with a cyber agenda. The agency has rightly urged operators to tighten their cyber defenses by conducting regular security assessments, updating passwords, and mapping out their operational technology and information technology assets. Yet, one can’t help but question why these fundamental precautions are not already standard practice.

We know that China, Russia, and Iran actively seek to disrupt U.S. critical infrastructure, including water and wastewater systems. Just last year, state-backed Chinese hackers and Iranian-supported cyber groups made headlines for targeting our infrastructure. Even more chilling, a Russian hacktivist group recently penetrated a Texas town’s water system, with the city manager reporting tens of thousands of login attempts in just a few days.

Decisive Action Is Needed to Protect Our Vital Infrastructure

These aren’t merely cyber skirmishes; they are acts of covert warfare. By outsourcing cyberattacks to shadowy groups, these nation-states engage in what amounts to digital guerrilla warfare—keeping their fingerprints off the weapons while our public utilities are held at ransom. This strategy of using hacktivist proxies allows them plausible deniability, shifting the narrative from state-sponsored terrorism to isolated incidents of cyber vandalism.

In the broader spectrum of national security, this situation reveals a gaping hole in our domestic armor. For all our advanced technology and military might, a simple unchanged password on a water system’s server could lead to untold chaos. It begs the question: How did we get here? And more importantly, how do we prevent a full-scale water catastrophe?

The answers to these questions are mired in bureaucratic sluggishness and a disturbing lack of urgency from some corners of the government. While the EPA’s alert is a step in the right direction, it is but a whisper in the cacophony of ongoing policy debates. What we need is not just incremental policy adjustments but a sweeping, government-wide mobilization to shore up our defenses against these cyber threats.

As we ponder the road ahead, it’s clear that the safety of America’s drinking water—and indeed, our national security—cannot be relegated to the back burner of political priorities. Stronger regulatory measures, robust cybersecurity protocols, and a unified national response are imperative to safeguard our critical infrastructure. The time for half-measures is over; the stakes are simply too high. Americans deserve the assurance that their water, the very essence of life, is safe from foreign manipulation and cyber threats. Anything less would be a dereliction of duty by those elected and appointed to protect us.

Robert B. Chernin

Robert B. Chernin

Robert is a longtime entrepreneur, business leader, fundraiser, and former radio talk show host. He studied political science at McGill University in Montreal and has spent over 25 years deeply involved in civic affairs at all levels. Robert has consulted on a variety of federal and statewide campaigns at the gubernatorial, congressional, senatorial, and presidential level. He served in leadership roles in the presidential campaigns of President George W. Bush as well as McCain for President. He led Florida’s Victory 2004’s national Jewish outreach operations as Executive Director. In addition, he served on the President’s Committee of the Republican Jewish Coalition.