Great Lakes Water Authority, one of Michigan’s largest water treatment facilities went ‘Invisible’ to protect its critical infrastructure.

Lake Huron, Industry Today
Lake Huron

When nearly 4 million people rely on you for water services every day of the year, you can’t afford to experience outages, cyberattacks or any kind of disruption to your service. That’s the reality the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) faces 24/7 and why we began searching  for a reliable way to connect and secure our critical infrastructure.

A successful cyberattack could be catastrophic for any organization in charge of critical infrastructure. For example, the Israel Water Authority recently reported a cybersecurity breach that affected six facilities, causing a pump to go into continuous operation at one facility, data loss at another and operating system issues at several other facilities. Luckily the impact of the attack was minor, as operators were able to quickly identify the breach, take back control, restore the data loss and reverse any changes made to the operating systems.

However, if these facilities weren’t able to identify the breach and jump into action so quickly, the Israel Water Authority could have experienced irreversible damage. Some of the consequences could have included the theft of customers’ personal and financial information, water contamination, and even the installation of malicious programs like ransomware, which could hold all of the facilities’ data hostage.

Our infrastructure at GLWA consists of five water treatment plants, one wastewater treatment plant, 40 pump stations, eight combined sewage overflow facilities and three interceptors. We also manage more than 250 remote sites that maintain their own power but need network connection to send pressure, flow, level and valve position data back to GLWA control centers.

As one of the largest water treatment facilities in Michigan, GLWA provides water and wastewater services for nearly 40% of the state’s population, which covers eight counties—including Detroit—and about 100 suburban communities outside the city. On one day alone, this population can demand more than 1.7 billion gallons of clean water and wastewater.

Radio Connection Not Cutting It

All of this boils down to one of the largest critical infrastructures in the country. We needed to ensure a seamless data connection to remote sites, but we were using a radio connection, which was slow, unreliable, and gave us a very limited range.

Our first attempt to move away from our outdated radio connection was to add a wired fiber connection to a few critical remote sites. However, this came with a hefty price tag of $200K per remote site, and we quickly decided this was not a cost-effective or scalable option. That’s when we discovered Airwall.

The Knight in Invisible Armor

Tempered’s Airwall Solution sounded like the perfect answer to GLWA’s connection issue and to protect us from ever experiencing a cybersecurity breach like the Israel Water Authority encountered. We worked with a Tempered Solution Architect to deploy a proof of concept in a lab environment and were able to quickly establish a data connection from GLWA’s control centers to a physical Airwall Gateway with a cell connection. This test demonstrated how seamless, simple and cost-effective it could be to connect to our critical remote sites.

We initially deployed the technology to 13 inflatable sewer dam sites with radio connection issues. As this proved to be almost painless, we fully deployed Tempered’s Airwall Edge Service coupled with Airwall Conductor and Airwall Relay, creating a solution that enabled a secure connection at scale for our remote sites. The Conductor allowed us to visualize our segmentation and do granular white listing of the network, while the Airwall Relay allowed for secure traffic between remote sites and control centers.

Now, any time we need to connect to a new remote site, we simply send over a physical Airwall Gateway. There’s no need for troubleshooting old technology, and with our Zero-Trust Network, we can be confident our services will be available to our customers whenever they need it.

Ali Abdallah Glwa, Industry Today
Ahmad ‘Ali’ Abdallah

About Ahmad ‘Ali’ Abdallah
As the Infrastructure Administrator at GLWA, Ali is responsible for the Control system for water distribution. He has a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a master’s degree in System Engineering.

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