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Bipartisan lawmakers seek answers from Mayorkas after Russian cyberattacks on water systems in US

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle concerned about recent cyberattacks on water systems in drought-stricken areas of the western U.S. are seeking answers from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on how hacks are going to be prevented in the future.

In a letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Reps. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., and Pat Fallon, R-Texas, called for a briefing and answers regarding the January cyberattack launched against the water system in Muleshoe, Texas.

The hack caused the small Texas town’s water system to overflow, and, within two hours, sent tens of thousands of gallons of water flowing out of the town’s water tower.

The attack was one of three on small towns in the rural Texas Panhandle linked to a Russian hacktivist group.

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According to Mike Cypert, the city manager of Hale Center, there were about 37,000 attempts in four days to log into the city’s firewall. Ultimately, the attempted hack failed as the city “unplugged” the system and operated it manually.

But in Muleshoe, which has a population of about 5,000, hackers caused the system to overflow before it was shut down and taken over manually by city officials.

In the letter to Mayorkas, the legislators said the cybersecurity firm Mandiant attributed the attack to Sandworm, which is believed to be connected to Russia’s spy agency, the GRU.

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Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testifies

In 2018, Sandworm launched hacks against the Olympic Games in South Korea and on Ukraine’s electrical grid.

Another group connected to Sandworm, the Cyber Army of Russia Reborn, claimed responsibility for the hack in Texas, the lawmakers wrote.

“Water facilities continue to be central to our nation’s critical infrastructure, and our water resources face many limitations,” Gallego and Fallon said. “Should a hack similar to the Texas incident occur in Arizona or other states that may lack sufficient water supply, it could disrupt operations across the region with devastating effects.”

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They added that losing tens of thousands of gallons of water, like Muleshoe did in January, could have “devastating impacts” on rural communities across the country.

The two lawmakers sent a list of questions to Mayorkas, asking what actions his department is taking to respond to the hack against Muleshoe’s water system, what steps he is taking to protect the nation’s water facilities and other critical infrastructure from disruption and what lessons his department has learned from previous hacks, pointing to an incident last year when an Iranian regime-linked cyber group conducted a hack against a water authority in Pennsylvania.

The letter marks the second time since December of last year that Gallego has requested a briefing from Mayorkas about DHS protection of U.S. water facilities and other critical infrastructure from adversary disruption.

Fox News Digital reached out to DHS for comment and did not immediately hear back.

In March, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael S. Regan and Jake Sullivan, assistant to the president for National Security Affairs, sent a letter to the nation’s governors asking them to take steps to protect the water supply, including assessing cybersecurity and planning for a cyberattack.

“Drinking water and wastewater systems are an attractive target for cyberattacks because they are a lifeline critical infrastructure sector but often lack the resources and technical capacity to adopt rigorous cybersecurity practices,” Regan and Sullivan wrote.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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