When hackers threatened the water supply in Oldsmar, Fla., last month, it highlighted the critical importance of these utilities \u2014 along with their placement in the cross hairs of cybercriminals around the world.\n\u201cSince Florida, a lot of folks have become aware that this very possibly could happen to their utilities,\u201d said Sielen Namdar, Cisco\u2019s global water business lead. \u201cAnd the last thing utilities want is to endanger the public.\u201d\nUnfortunately, too many water utilities depend on backward technologies, with little visibility into just what is happening in their networks or physical infrastructures. In Oldsmar, for example, hackers took advantage of a remote-access system that was beyond their security perimeter. \u00a0And when levels of lye approached dangerous levels, it was blind luck that an operator happened to notice.\nThe good news is that modernized networks, Internet of Things technologies, and top-flight security solutions can create unprecedented visibility and protection for networks and physical infrastructures. So, operators can be alerted to everything from leaks and impurities to cyberattacks and physical threats.\nAlbuquerque is one city that\u2019s taking these threats seriously. It\u2019s working with Cisco to modernize its technology and future-proof its operations. This includes extensive IoT sensors to monitor the physical infrastructure and water conditions.\n\u201cA water leak in a place like Albuquerque is huge, because we live in a desert,\u201d said Kristen Sanders, Chief Information Security Officer at the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority. \u201cBut instead of sending a person out to examine a leak a month after it started, we know right away. It\u2019s a huge benefit.\u201d\nCody Stinson, Chief Information Officer of the water utility, explained how Cisco\u2019s Customer Experience organization (CX) partnered with his team to bring an all-new dimension of security and visibility into his network infrastructures \u2014 while also bridging the silos separating IT and OT.\n\u201cWe saw the lack of visibility into networks, the lack of visibility into servers, the lack of physical security and cybersecurity that existed with these places,\u201d he said. \u201cAnd the team on the operations side just didn\u2019t have the capabilities to address a problem, even if they knew it was happening.\u201d\nFast responses for real-time problems\nTo remedy that situation, Stinson and his team worked closely with Cisco Country Digital Acceleration and Cisco CX. The Cisco teams supported a complete network refresh and added key solutions like Cisco Cyber Vision, an asset inventory and threat detection tool for industrial control systems that gives both IT and OT teams intuitive and clear visibility into all that\u2019s happening. With Cyber Vision embedded in the industrial network equipment providing constant, automated monitoring of Albuquerque\u2019s networks and physical infrastructure, teams are quickly informed when anything goes awry.\n\u201cYou can drill down into the network,\u201d Sanders said. \u201cYou can see what protocols are running, which machines are talking to what, and what they are saying. And you can set alerts against actual baselines of normal behavior. So, with something like the Florida incident you\u2019d be alerted ahead of time.\u201d\nNamdar stresses that Cyber Vision is all about holistic visibility into even the most complex industrial systems \u2014 along with easy-to-access insights on one unified platform.\n\u201cIt\u2019s a very powerful solution designed for bringing full visibility into industrial control systems,\u201d she said, \u201cespecially for that space where IT and OT converge. And on the operations side, they often don\u2019t have a whole lot of visibility into what\u2019s connecting and what\u2019s not connecting or whether people have permission or access.\u201d\u00a0\nA common problem with cyberattacks is that security teams simply don\u2019t know they\u2019re happening, leaving hackers free to steal secrets or disrupt operations for weeks, days, or months.\n\u201cI never say never with cybersecurity,\u201d Stinson said. \u201cBut I feel very comfortable with what we have in place to avoid these situations. If a hacker is breaking in and mucking about with our systems, we\u2019re going to know about it really quickly.\u201d\nAt a time when budgets are tight, it can be tough for water utilities to justify network upgrades or enhanced security. But as in so many other industries, the pandemic revealed the critical need to accelerate digital transformations. And Sanders and Stinson both stressed that cost savings down the road outweigh upfront expenses.\nCisco Vision, for example, cuts costs for additional security hardware, cabling, etc. to monitor operations. And by using Cisco Webex and Duo Security, Albuquerque Water Utility was able to send much of its workforce home with little disruption. And close collaboration \u2014 along with remote viewing of networks and water systems \u2014 remained unchanged.\u00a0\n\u201cWe can pull all that data in wherever we are,\u201d Sanders said, \u201cand have visibility into exactly what\u2019s going on. And with Duo we can validate which person authenticated and map the exact geo location.\u201d\n\u201cWe live on Webex now,\u201d added Stinson. \u201cI\u2019m on it all day, every day, bar none.\u201d\nDigital solutions for a thirsty planet \nAs water challenges and cyberthreats continue to grow, digitization will only accelerate in importance. And Namdar sees Cisco playing an ever-expanding role.\n\u201cWater utilities and other critical infrastructure entities choose to partner with Cisco because we\u2019re constantly innovating on the latest and greatest solutions,\u201d she said. \u201cAnd when we deploy a solution, it\u2019s not over. We constantly upgrade, to make sure that our customers are ready for the more sophisticated hacks that will be coming.\u201d\nBut Namdar is especially excited to see digital technologies help many more people around the world have access to clean, drinkable water.\u00a0\n\u201cThe beauty of technology,\u201d she said, \u201cis that as its automated, it\u2019s more efficient. And as it becomes more OpEx than CapEx, it\u2019s easier to fund. That makes it easier for developing countries.\u201d\nOn a planet contending with climate change, pollution, and overpopulation, constant innovation will be critical.\u00a0\n\u201cWe\u2019ll be able to bring clean water to a lot more communities,\u201d Namdar concluded. \u201cAnd every single drop counts.\u201d\nFrom evolving technologies to secure data management to resilient ecosystem development, Cisco delivers trusted solutions for smart water initiatives.\u00a0 Click here to learn more.