How Israel secures critical infrastructure: Its water supply

To harden Israel’s water network against an estimated 500,000 hacking attempts a year, Mekorot, the nation's water supplier, has invested heavily in securing critical infrastructure.

David Balsar
David Balsar

In the arid Middle East, countries have long worried about water security and even considered it a casus belli. 

The growing impact of climate change has further ratcheted up the potential for destabilization due to disruption of water reserves — even well beyond traditionally parched regions. And with increased exposure of critical infrastructure to sophisticated cyberattackers, water networks are more vulnerable than ever. 

In February alone, two of the largest U.S. states have had to grapple with threats to their water supply. As a result of record frigid winter weather, some 12 million Texans have had water interruptions due to low supply at hundreds of water systems across the state. Earlier in the month, hackers tried to increase the level of sodium hydroxide a treatment centre in the central Florida town of Oldsmar. 

Last year, it was Israel's water network that was targeted: in April 2020 year hackers reportedly linked to Iran targeted controllers at an Israeli wastewater treatment plant in an effort to release chlorine into the network. The head of Israel's National Cyber Directorate that if the attack had succeeded, it would have interrupted the country's water supply and caused “big damage” to civilians. 

For decades, Israelis have followed the rise and fall of its one freshwater lake, the Sea of Galilee, on a daily basis – a reflection of country's chronic sense of water insecurity. But in the last five years, thanks in part to lessons learned from its own droughts and a dramatic build up in desalination plants on the Mediterranean Sea, Israel no longer relies on rainfall to fill the Sea of Galilee. Desalinated seawater now accounts for 85 percent of the country's drinking water. Water security is further bolstered by a system of water treatment plants that enable it to recycle 90 percent of its wastewater for agriculture.

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