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Former Worker Admits Taking Rural Water System Down

Shared password enabled the remote attack on Kansas utility
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 21, 2021 3:28 PM CDT
Updated Oct 21, 2021 3:55 PM CDT
Former Worker Admits Taking Rural Water System Down
Stock photo.   (Getty/JohnnyH5)

(Newser) – All Wyatt Travnichek had to do to remotely shut down a rural Kansas water system was know the shared pass code to get into the software that controls the plant. The Post Rock Rural Water District uses a shared GoToMyPC account to give employees remote access after hours, a prosecutor told a federal court in Topeka on Wednesday, and the defendant used to work at the plant. Travnichek pleaded guilty to tampering with a public water system, as well as causing reckless damage to a public computer during unauthorized access, the Wichita Eagle reports, under a plea agreement that includes a year in prison.

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An operator monitoring the plant remotely in March 2019, about two months after Travnichek had quit, saw the water plant had gone down. The operator, whose remote access was cut, then drove to the plant and found controls changed and a filter turned off. The Ellsworth site serves about 1,500 customers. Investigators traced the actions to Travnichek, 22, through his IP address. The prosecutor told the court that "the defendant said he was so intoxicated he didn’t remember anything."

Travnichek would not say why he shut the plant off. A Kansas agent in the Environmental Environmental Protection Agency said earlier that Travnichek "threatened the safety and health of an entire community." Online security presents extra challenges in rural areas, said an official with the Kansas Rural Water Association, per the Eagle. Small utilities often can't afford to hire employees dedicated to security, so the duties must be shared by other employees. "For many of these communities to find someone who is versed in IT issues they have to go 80 to 100 miles. The resources just aren't there," Elmer Ronnenbaum said. (Read more cyberattack stories.)

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