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Feds probe Iranian-linked cyberattacks on US water facilities

(NewsNation) — The U.S. federal government is actively investigating a series of cyberattacks on American water facilities, believed to be orchestrated by an Iranian government-affiliated cyber group, Politico reported. 

These attacks specifically targeted facilities utilizing technology manufactured in Israel. 

One such breach gained attention as the Cyber Av3ngers group, linked to Tehran, claimed responsibility for targeting a water authority in Pennsylvania. Authorities are currently examining a “single digit” number of affected facilities nationwide. 

Despite the breaches, no significant disruptions have been reported. Cybersecurity experts analyzing the Pennsylvania incident suggest that the attacks aim to instill concerns about the use of Israeli devices rather than causing operational harm. 

This surge in cyberthreats aligns with heightened tensions between Israel and Hamas, a militant group long supported by Iran. Additionally, the attacks coincide with a series of drone and rocket assaults on U.S. troops in the Middle East by Iranian proxy groups. 

U.S. water facilities face vulnerability due to inadequate funding and personnel, especially at smaller utilities. In response, the Biden administration has been working to address these challenges, expanding collaborations with private entities involved in the water sector. 

The recent cyberattack on the Municipal Water Authority of Aliquippa near Pittsburgh involved the Cyber Av3ngers breaching a digital control panel produced by the Israeli-owned company Unitronics. The group disabled the panel and seized control of its digital display screen, used for adjusting water pressure. The screen displayed a message: “Every equipment ‘Made in Israel’ is Cyber Av3ngers legal target.” 

Despite the breach, Robert Bible, the general manager of the water authority, assured the public that the attackers lacked the capability to alter drinking water chemicals. He confirmed that the affected station, serving 1,200 people, has not experienced any service disruptions. 

The investigation into the Aliquippa incident has been escalated to federal authorities, with the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency actively involved, according to Lt. Adam Reed, director of the Pennsylvania State Police communications office. 

On Tuesday, The Record reported that a North Texas utility, catering to 2 million people, fell victim to a distinct hacking group, seemingly unconnected to the Pennsylvania attack. A spokesperson for the North Texas Municipal Water District clarified that the utility, unlike the Pennsylvania case, was not employing products from Unitronics. 

Leaders from the FBI, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and National Counterterrorism Center addressed the House Committee on Homeland Security regarding the worldwide threats to the nation Nov. 15. 

FBI Director Christopher Wray emphasized that “lone wolf extremists” remain one of the nation’s biggest concerns amid the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. 

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