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By Kate Cough of the Maine Monitor
The Department of Environmental Protection has warned municipalities and water-sector professionals to be on alert after two recent ransomware intrusions, believed to be the first on wastewater systems in Maine.
The attacks occurred in Limestone and Mount Desert Island, said Judy Bruenjes, a wastewater technical assistance engineer for the DEP.
“They were both fairly minor, there was no threat to the public, there was no violation, no excursion, no health and safety threat. It wasn’t like the Colonial pipeline, but it was a concern for us that these small facilities were being targeted,” Bruenjes said.
In May, hackers forced the shutdown of the Colonial, one of the nation’s largest oil pipelines.
Jim Leighton, superintendent for the Limestone Water and Sewer Department, said the attack occurred over the July 4 weekend on a computer, running Windows 7, that was due for an upgrade. No taxpayer or ratepayer information was compromised, said Leighton.
“We said enough of that, it’s not worth paying a ransom for,” he continued. “We had to update it anyway.”
Ed Montague, superintendent for Mount Desert Wastewater, said in an email: “The office computers were down for approximately three working days… Our treatment plants were not affected as they are manually controlled with no automated inputs.” No ransom was paid and no personal information was compromised, said Montague, and town and IT professionals were notified.
State officials warn that the attacks should be taken seriously. Cybersecurity experts say hackers are targeting smaller organizations, often with important infrastructure roles, and scaling their ransom demands accordingly.
“Cyberattacks on wastewater infrastructure can cause significant harm,” warned Brian Kavanah, director of the DEP’s Bureau of Water Quality, in a July 8 memo.
He said attacks can do serious damage by overriding alarms, disabling pumps and equipment, interrupting treatment, or exposing personal and financial information.
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