White House on Iran’s Targeting of Water Systems

On March 18, the Biden administration warned governors that hackers linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were trying to disrupt drinking water and wastewater systems in the United States. “We need your support to ensure that all water systems in your state comprehensively assess their current cybersecurity practices to identify any significant vulnerabilities,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan wrote in a letter. They also revealed that hackers sponsored by China had compromised information technology of multiple critical infrastructure systems. The following are excerpts from the letter.


Dear Governor:

Disabling cyberattacks are striking water and wastewater systems throughout the United States. These attacks have the potential to disrupt the critical lifeline of clean and safe drinking water, as well as impose significant costs on affected communities. We are writing to describe the nature of these threats and request your partnership on important actions to secure water systems against the increasing risks from and consequences of these attacks.

Two recent and ongoing threats illustrate the risk that cyberattacks pose to the nation’s water systems:

  • Threat actors affiliated with the Iranian Government Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have carried out malicious cyberattacks against United States critical infrastructure entities, including drinking water systems. In these attacks, IRGC-affiliated cyber actors targeted and disabled a common type of operational technology used at water facilities where the facility had neglected to change a default manufacturer password. See Exploitation of Unitronics PLCs used in Water and Wastewater Systems | CISA for further information on these attacks.
  • The People’s Republic of China (PRC) state-sponsored cyber group known as Volt Typhoon has compromised information technology of multiple critical infrastructure systems, including drinking water, in the United States and its territories. Volt Typhoon’s choice of targets and pattern of behavior are not consistent with traditional cyber espionage. Federal departments and agencies assess with high confidence that Volt Typhoon actors are pre-positioning themselves to disrupt critical infrastructure operations in the event of geopolitical tensions and/or military conflicts. See PRC State-Sponsored Actors Compromise and Maintain Persistent Access to U.S. Critical Infrastructure for further information.

Drinking water and wastewater systems are an attractive target for cyberattacks because they are a lifeline critical infrastructure sector but often lack the resources and technical capacity to adopt rigorous cybersecurity practices. As the Sector Risk Management Agency identified in Presidential Policy Directive 21 for water and wastewater systems, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the lead Federal agency for ensuring the nation’s water sector is resilient to all threats and hazards. Partnerships with State, local, tribal, and territorial governments are critical for EPA to fulfill this mission. In that spirit of partnership, we ask for your assistance in addressing the pervasive and challenging risk of cyberattacks on drinking
water systems.

We need your support to ensure that all water systems in your state comprehensively assess their current cybersecurity practices to identify any significant vulnerabilities, deploy practices and controls to reduce cybersecurity risks where needed, and exercise plans to prepare for, respond to, and recover from a cyber incident. In many cases, even basic cybersecurity precautions – such as resetting default passwords or updating software to address known vulnerabilities – are not in place and can mean the difference between business as usual and a disruptive cyberattack. The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s (CISA) website has a list of actions water and wastewater systems can take to reduce risk and improve protections against malicious cyber activity.