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Protecting Critical Water Systems from Cyber & Physical Attack – The STOP-IT Project

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STOP-IT: Strategic, Tactical, Operational Protection of Water Infrastructure against Cyber-Physical Threats

I bet right now you are thinking “that is quite a name”, I know I was when I first started researching the STOP-IT project. Whilst the name may be a little long winded the importance of the project is certainly not. One of the most important pieces of national infrastructure is water supply, without it society would struggle quite quickly to continue operating efficiently. Imagine not being able to get up and take a shower in the morning or to do your washing. It is one of those things that in the western world we take for granted, but we should not underestimate the importance of water supply to a functioning and productive society.

Goals of the STOP-IT project

STOP-IT is a Horizon 2020 project with the objective of assuring the resilience and security of water purification and delivery systems. This project brings together water managers, industrial technology developers, small and medium-sized enterprises and R&D centres across Europe. The project will start in the last quarter of 2017 and will run for four years.

In recent years we have seen an increase in threat to the west from terrorism, so making sure that critical infrastructure is secure is of importance now, more than ever. The project aims to ensure the resilience and safety of integrated water cycle systems in the face of cyber threats and intentional physical threats.

The STOP-IT consortium will use innovative technology such as detection algorithms for water pollutants and cyberattacks. The Technological Center Eurecat will develop, within the STOP-IT consortium, high-tech tools to prevent cyber attacks and natural hazards that could jeopardise water supply networks and vital infrastructure for cities.

Using tools and technology to protect water

The project will develop a management and operation framework that will allow cities, regions and countries to evaluate and prevent the impact of potential risks, detecting their presence and mitigating the consequences. To this end, technological solutions and guides will be developed, adapted and demonstrated. In addition, it will propose representative case studies of the different circumstances faced by water companies in other regions. The technology will make it possible to measure the effectiveness of preventive actions and propose new palliative measures.

Specifically, Intelligent Systems Management and IT security technology units will jointly develop digital tools to understand the nature of the risks as a combination of physical and digital variables. In the words of Juan Caubet, a researcher at the technology centre’s cybersecurity team, the software will also allow “measuring the effectiveness of preventive actions at the neighbourhood, city, or entire supply network level and, ultimately, prevent future attacks.”

It is great to see that the threat to national infrastructure is being taken very seriously by the powers that be in the European Union. It is often said that the hackers are always ahead of those that are trying to protect systems from attack, but hopefully this project will help the authorities to stay ahead of the game and to protect critical water systems from attack.