The parent company of South Staffs Water and Cambridge Water has confirmed it has been targeted by a cyber attack, but said the incident had not affected its ability to supply water to all its customers.
In a statement published on its website, South Staffordshire PLC said its corporate IT network had been disrupted but that its customer service teams were operating “as usual”.
Confirmation of the attack comes after a ransomware group released a statement online claiming to have hacked into a water company network and criticised its security systems – although they appear to have misidentified the target and named a different water company in their statement.
Ransomware attacks involve criminals breaking into a network and stealing or blocking access to important files until a ransom payment is made.
The group demanded payment to prevent the release of internal documents and to explain how it broke into the network.
It also claimed that it could be possible for other hackers to tamper with water supplies, but this has been disputed by South Staffordshire PLC.
“As you’d expect, our number one priority is to continue to maintain safe public water supplies,” the company said.
“This incident has not affected our ability to supply safe water and we can confirm we are still supplying safe water to all of our Cambridge Water and South Staffs Water customers.
“This is thanks to the robust systems and controls over water supply and quality we have in place at all times as well as the quick work of our teams to respond to this incident and implement the additional measures we have put in place on a precautionary basis.”
It added that it was “working closely with the relevant government and regulatory authorities and will keep them, as well as our customers, updated as our investigations continue”.
The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) advises firms not to pay ransomware demands as they do not guarantee the return of any stolen or encrypted files, and also help contribute to the success of cybercriminals as well as potentially encourage others.
Cybersecurity experts said the drought conditions in the UK made water companies a target for cybercriminals – particularly ransomware groups – because of the potentially far-reaching consequences, and urged infrastructure to be on guard for such attacks.
Jamie Akhtar, chief executive and co-founder of CyberSmart, said: “Although this attack appears to have been relatively benign, it does set a worrying precedent.
“We don’t know how truthful the hackers’ claims that they could ‘easily change the chemical balance of the water’ are.
“However, it is something a sophisticated attack could achieve, even with many water companies having robust protections in place.
“In an age where cyber warfare has become much more common, we should all be on our guard.”
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