A man has been charged with a cyber attack on the Discovery Bay water treatment facility

Pierluigi Paganini July 07, 2023

A man from Tracy, California, has been charged with a computer attack on the Discovery Bay water treatment facility.

Rambler Gallo (53), a man from Tracy (California) has been charged with intentionally causing damage to a computer after he allegedly breached the network of the Discovery Bay Water Treatment Facility.

Discovery Bay Water Treatment Facility

The man targeted the water treatment facility in the Town of Discovery Bay, California, which provides treatment for the water and wastewater systems for the town’s 15,000 residents. Gallo was an employee of a private Massachusetts-based company (Company A), which contracted with Discovery Bay to operate the town’s wastewater treatment facility.

According to the press release published by the DoJ, Gallo intentionally uninstalled the main operational and monitoring system for the water treatment plant and then shut down off the servers running those systems.

“The indictment alleges that while Gallo was employed with Company A, he installed software on his own personal computer and on Company A’s private internal network that allowed him to gain remote access to Discovery Bay’s Water Treatment facility computer network. Then, in January of 2021, after Gallo had resigned from Company A, he allegedly accessed the facility’s computer system remotely and transmitted a command to uninstall software that was the main hub of the facility’s computer network and that protected the entire water treatment system, including water pressure, filtration, and chemical levels.” states the DoJ.

“The indictment charges Gallo with one count of transmitting a program, information, code, and command to cause damage to a protected computer, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1030(a)(5)(A) and (c)(4)(B)(i).”

The man faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and the court may order an additional term of supervised release, additional assessments, and restitution, if appropriate.

In March 2023, the Biden administration announced that it will make it mandatory for the states to conduct cyber security audits of public water systems.

Water systems are critical infrastructures that are increasingly exposed to the risk of cyberattacks by both cybercriminal organizations and nation-state actors, the US Environmental Protection Agency reported.

On June 2021, a report published by NBC News revealed that threat actors attempted to compromise an unnamed water treatment plant that provides services to San Francisco Bay Area, the attack took place on January 15. The actors gained access to the systems at the facility by using the TeamViewer account of a former employee to gain access to systems and attempted to manipulate software used for treating drinking water.

In February 2021, Pinellas Sheriff revealed that attackers tried to raise levels of sodium hydroxide, by a factor of more than 100, in the Oldsmar’s water supply. The scenario described by Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri is disconcerting, an attacker attempted to raise levels of sodium hydroxide, also known as lye, by a factor of more than 100, in Oldsmar’s water supply.

On March 2021, the United States Department of Justice charged Wyatt A. Travnichek (22), of Ellsworth County, Kansas, for accessing and tampering with the computer system of the Ellsworth County Rural Water District.

Travnichek accessed the computer system of the Public Water System on or about March 27, 2019, without authorization. Travnichek worked for the Ellsworth County Rural Water District for roughly one year, he was remote monitoring the plan by accessing the Post Rock computer system.

Once gained access to the public water system, the man allegedly performed malicious actions that halted the processes at the facility that impacted the cleaning and disinfecting procedures.

On May 2021, WSSC Water suffered a ransomware attack that targeted a portion of their network that operates non-essential business systems.

On October 2021, a joint cybersecurity advisory published by the FBI, NSA, CISA, and the EPA revealed three more attacks launched by Ransomware gangs against US water and wastewater treatment facilities (WWS) this year.

It was the first time that the attacks were publicly disclosed, they took place in March, July, and August 2021 respectively. The three facilities hit by ransomware operators are located in the states of Nevada, Maine, and California. In all the attacks the ransomware encrypted files on the infected systems and in one of the security incidents threat actors compromised a system used to control the SCADA industrial equipment.

The three incidents included in the advisory were:

  • In August 2021, malicious cyber actors used Ghost variant ransomware against a California-based WWS facility. The ransomware variant had been in the system for about a month and was discovered when three supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) servers displayed a ransomware message.
  • In July 2021, cyber actors used remote access to introduce ZuCaNo ransomware onto a Maine-based WWS facility’s wastewater SCADA computer. The treatment system was run manually until the SCADA computer was restored using local control and more frequent operator rounds.
  • In March 2021, cyber actors used an unknown ransomware variant against a Nevada-based WWS facility. The ransomware affected the victim’s SCADA system and backup systems. The SCADA system provides visibility and monitoring but is not a full industrial control system (ICS).

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Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – hacking, water treatment facility)

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