The Multiple Ways Hackers Can Attack Critical Infrastructure

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Critical infrastructure refers to the systems, facilities, and networks that are essential for the functioning of a society and its economy. These include power grids, transportation systems, water supplies, communication networks, and financial institutions. Unfortunately, in today’s interconnected world, critical infrastructure is increasingly becoming a prime target for hackers and cybercriminals.

As most of our readers know, Adaptive Office Solutions offers cybersecurity solutions to the business community in Atlantic Canada. Therefore, nearly all of our articles focus on topics that protect businesses from cyber-attacks. But, this week, we thought it was imperative to shine the light on cyber attacks that can affect you personally in the grimmest of ways.

Let’s look deeper into the threats that can affect you personally…

Tap Water

Recently, we ran across an article called How Hackers Tried to Add Dangerous Lye into a City’s Water Supply.” Obviously, the idea of hackers poisoning drinking water was cause for alarm, but a different, more subtle reaction cropped up… confusion.

Here are some excerpts from the article to give you some perspective…

“On February 5, an unknown cyberattacker tried to poison the water supply of Oldsmar, Fla. City officials say the targeted water-treatment facility had a software remote-access system that let staff control the plant’s computers from a distance.

The hacker entered the system and set it to massively increase sodium hydroxide levels in the water. This chemical (better known as lye) was originally set at 100 parts per million, an innocuous amount that helps control the water’s pH levels. The attacker tried to boost that to 11,100 ppm, high enough to damage skin and cause hair loss if the water contacts the body—or, if it is ingested, to cause potentially deadly gastrointestinal symptoms.”

So, here’s where the confusion about poisoning tap water comes in… How could a hacker benefit from physically harming a town of 15,000 people?

Of course, that’s a rhetorical question; only the hacker knows their motivation

Cyber attacks targeting tap water systems can have severe implications for public health, safety, and the overall functioning of a community. Tap water systems, also known as water distribution systems, encompass the infrastructure and processes responsible for treating, purifying, and delivering safe drinking water to households and businesses.

  • Operational Disruption: Cyber attacks on tap water systems can aim to disrupt the normal operation of water treatment plants, pumping stations, and control systems. By targeting the software and hardware components that manage the treatment and distribution processes, hackers can manipulate water quality parameters, disrupt the flow of water, or cause system malfunctions. Such disruptions can result in water shortages, contamination risks, or service disruptions, impacting the daily lives and health of communities.
  • Water Contamination: One of the most concerning aspects of cyber attacks on tap water systems is the potential for water contamination. Hackers may attempt to introduce harmful substances, such as chemicals or pathogens, into the water supply. (We have an example below.) By compromising control systems and altering the treatment processes, they can bypass safety protocols and compromise the integrity of the water. Contaminated tap water poses significant risks to public health, leading to widespread illness and potential outbreaks of waterborne diseases.
  • Water Quality Monitoring: Tap water systems rely on sensors, monitoring systems, and data analytics to ensure water quality compliance with regulatory standards. Cyber attacks targeting these monitoring systems can disrupt the collection and analysis of data, leading to inaccurate or delayed detection of water quality issues. This can hinder the ability of water utility operators to respond promptly to potential contamination events, increasing the risks to public health and delaying necessary remedial actions.
  • Supply Chain Attacks: Water distribution systems rely on a complex network of suppliers and vendors for equipment, software, and maintenance services. Cyber attackers may target the supply chain by compromising these trusted partners. For example, malicious actors could infiltrate the software used in water treatment processes or gain unauthorized access to remote monitoring systems. Such supply chain attacks can provide a gateway for hackers to manipulate critical components, compromise control systems, or gain unauthorized access to sensitive infrastructure.
  • Data Breaches and Privacy Concerns:Tap water systems generate and store vast amounts of data, including customer information, water quality data, and operational records. Cyber attacks that result in data breaches can have significant privacy implications and undermine public trust.

Power Grids

Cyber attacks on power grids have emerged as a major concern in recent years due to their potential to cause widespread disruption and chaos. Power grids are critical infrastructure systems that control the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity to homes, businesses, and industries. The consequences of successful cyber attacks on power grids can be severe, ranging from extended blackouts to cascading failures with long-lasting societal and economic impacts.

According to excerpts from an article by, they wrote, “Attacks on US power grids rose to an all-time high in 2022. Substations, which are responsible for stepping down high-voltage power to lower levels that can be delivered safely to homes, became high-profile targets late last year.

The web of wires connecting thousands of power plants to supply hundreds of millions of Americans is vulnerable to physical and cyber attacks. Last year, the incidents put the network at risk in more than three dozen U.S. states.

The department’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security & Emergency Response, which collected the data, declined to provide details about the seriousness of the events, the companies involved, the types of facilities, or any intentions.

Exelon Corp., a utility giant, was listed as having experienced a cyber event on Nov. 23, the day before Thanksgiving, according to the EIA. It’s a rare disclosure. Exelon submitted the report out of “an abundance of caution” after being notified of a cyber event experienced by a vendor, not because of an incident within its own operations, spokeswoman Elizabeth Keating said in an email. Neither she nor the Energy Department provided details.”

Given the high stakes involved, protecting power grids from cyber attacks requires a multi-layered approach to cybersecurity. This includes regular vulnerability assessments, intrusion detection systems, network segmentation, strong access controls, incident response planning, and continuous monitoring of network traffic and system logs.

Transportation Systems

Cyber attacks on transportation systems have become a growing concern as technology increasingly plays a crucial role in managing and controlling various modes of transportation, including air, rail, maritime, and road networks. Such attacks can have significant consequences, including disruption of services, safety risks, and economic impacts. Here are some key aspects to consider regarding cyber-attacks on transportation systems:

  • Traffic Management Systems: Transportation networks rely on advanced traffic management systems to control the flow of vehicles, optimize traffic patterns, and ensure the safe and efficient movement of people and goods. However, these systems are vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Manipulating traffic signals, altering road signage, or injecting false data into transportation management systems can lead to traffic congestion, accidents, or even gridlock in urban areas.
  • Aviation Systems: The aviation industry heavily relies on interconnected computer systems to manage air traffic control, flight operations, passenger data, and aircraft maintenance. Cyber attacks targeting aviation systems can have severe consequences, ranging from flight disruptions and delays to compromising aircraft systems.
  • Maritime Systems: Modern maritime operations leverage advanced technology, including navigation systems, communication networks, and cargo management systems. Cyber attacks on maritime systems can result in the manipulation of vessel positioning data, disruption of communication channels, or interference with cargo tracking systems. Such attacks can potentially lead to maritime accidents, disruption of trade routes, or even compromise port security.
  • Railway Systems: Rail transportation systems rely on computerized signaling, train control systems, and communication networks to ensure safe and efficient train operations. Cyber attacks targeting railway systems can result in signaling malfunctions, unauthorized access to train control systems or disruption of communication between trains and control centers. These attacks can lead to train delays, collisions, or even derailments.
  • Connected Vehicles: The emergence of connected and autonomous vehicles introduces new challenges in transportation cybersecurity. Hackers could potentially exploit vulnerabilities in-vehicle software, communication protocols, or connected infrastructure to gain unauthorized access, manipulate vehicle controls, or disrupt transportation networks. Ensuring the security of connected vehicles is crucial to prevent malicious activities that could endanger passenger safety and disrupt traffic flow.
  • Supply Chain Attacks: Transportation systems heavily rely on complex supply chains involving numerous vendors and suppliers. Hackers can target these supply chains to gain unauthorized access to critical transportation systems. For example, compromising a supplier of critical components or software used in transportation infrastructure can provide an entry point for cyber attacks. This can result in the introduction of malicious code, unauthorized access, or manipulation of transportation systems.


By adopting comprehensive cybersecurity measures and fostering collaboration, transportation systems can enhance their resilience and protect against evolving cyber threats that could compromise the safety, efficiency, and reliability of transportation networks.

Communication Networks

Cyber attacks can significantly impact communication networks, which serve as the backbone for transmitting voice, data, and multimedia information across various channels, including telephone lines, cellular networks, and the Internet. Here are some key ways in which cyber-attacks can affect communication networks:

  • Service Disruptions: Cyber attacks can cause disruptions in communication services, leading to network outages or degraded performance. For example, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks can overwhelm network resources, rendering them unavailable to legitimate users. These disruptions can impact voice calls, internet connectivity, messaging services, and other forms of communication, causing inconvenience and hindering critical communication during emergencies.
  • Data Breaches and Privacy Concerns: Communication networks handle vast amounts of sensitive information, including personal and financial data, confidential business communications, and intellectual property. Cyber attacks that result in data breaches can compromise this sensitive information, leading to privacy violations, identity theft, financial fraud, and reputational damage. Breaches of communication networks can also expose private conversations, messages, and multimedia content, eroding trust and confidentiality.
  • Network Infrastructure Compromise: Hackers may target communication network infrastructure, such as routers, switches, and network equipment, to gain unauthorized access or manipulate network traffic. By compromising these components, attackers can intercept and redirect communication traffic, eavesdrop on conversations, or inject malicious content into data transmissions. Such attacks can compromise the integrity and reliability of communication networks, impacting both individuals and organizations that rely on secure and trusted communication channels.
  • Phishing and Social Engineering Attacks: Communication networks are often used as vectors for phishing and social engineering attacks. Hackers may send deceptive emails, text messages, or voice calls, impersonating trusted entities such as banks, government agencies, or service providers. These attacks aim to trick individuals into revealing sensitive information or performing actions that can compromise their security. Successful phishing attacks can lead to identity theft, financial loss, or unauthorized access to sensitive systems.
  • Mobile Network Exploitation: Mobile networks, including cellular networks and Wi-Fi hotspots, are vulnerable to various types of cyber attacks. Malicious actors can intercept mobile communications, hijack calls, or manipulate data transmitted over these networks. They can also exploit vulnerabilities in mobile devices and operating systems to gain unauthorized access, install malware, or steal personal information. Mobile network exploitation can compromise user privacy, facilitate financial fraud, and enable unauthorized access to sensitive accounts or systems.
  • Infrastructure Disruptions: Critical infrastructure relies on communication networks for coordination, monitoring, and control. Cyber attacks targeting communication networks can disrupt the functioning of essential services, such as emergency response systems, transportation systems, power grids, and healthcare facilities. By compromising communication channels, hackers can hamper emergency communications, delay response times, or even create confusion and chaos during critical situations.


One memorable, far-reaching network attack happened in early 2021. A series of cyber attacks were identified that exploited vulnerabilities in on-premises Microsoft Exchange Servers. The attacks, attributed to a group called Hafnium, targeted organizations worldwide, including businesses, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. By exploiting the vulnerabilities, the attackers gained unauthorized access to email accounts and communication systems, potentially leading to data theft, email compromise, and broader network compromises.

By implementing comprehensive cybersecurity measures and fostering collaboration, communication network operators can help safeguard the integrity, availability, and confidentiality of communication services, maintaining the trust and functionality of critical communication infrastructure.

Financial Institutions

Cyber attacks on financial institutions can have significant impacts on both the institutions themselves and their customers. Financial institutions, such as banks, investment firms, and payment processors, are attractive targets for cybercriminals due to the potential financial gains and the wealth of sensitive data they possess.

In excerpts from an article by IMF, they wrote, “Cyber attackers continue to target the financial sector. Tight financial and technological interconnections within the financial sector can facilitate the quick spread of attacks through the entire system, potentially causing widespread disruption and loss of confidence.

Just as rapid technological advances offer attackers tools that are cheaper and easier to use, so too do the changes give financial institutions greater ability to thwart them.

Even so, greater vulnerabilities are to be expected in an increasingly digitalized world. Targets proliferate as more systems and devices are connected. Fintech firms that rely heavily on new digital technologies can make the financial industry more efficient and inclusive, but also more vulnerable to cyber risks.

Finally, reliance on common service providers means attacks have a higher probability of having systemic implications. The concentration of risks for commonly used services, including cloud computing, managed security services, and network operators, could impact entire sectors. Losses can be high and become macro-critical.

While financial firms and regulators are becoming more aware of, and prepared for, attacks, gaps in the prudential framework remain substantial.”

Here are some key ways in which cyber-attacks can affect financial institutions and their customers:

  • Data Breaches: Cyber attacks targeting financial institutions often aim to gain unauthorized access to customer data, such as personal information, account details, and financial records. Data breaches can result in the theft of sensitive information, which can be exploited for identity theft, financial fraud, or sold on the dark web. The loss of customer trust and reputation damage can be significant for financial institutions that fail to protect customer data.
  • Financial Fraud: Cyber attacks can lead to various forms of financial fraud, including unauthorized transactions, account takeovers, and credit card fraud. Hackers may use stolen credentials or compromise online banking systems to conduct fraudulent activities, transfer funds or make unauthorized purchases. Customers can suffer financial losses as a result, while financial institutions may incur costs related to reimbursing affected customers and investigating fraud incidents.
  • Ransomware Attacks: Ransomware attacks involve encrypting the systems and data of financial institutions, rendering them inaccessible until a ransom is paid. These attacks can disrupt critical operations, including online banking services, transaction processing, and customer support. Ransomware attacks can result in financial institutions being unable to provide services to their customers, causing inconvenience and potentially leading to reputational damage.
  • Disruption of Operations: Cyber attacks can cause significant disruptions to financial institutions’ operations. Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks can overwhelm networks, rendering online banking systems and customer-facing platforms inaccessible. These disruptions can impact customer interactions, transaction processing, and the overall ability of the institution to conduct business effectively.
  • Regulatory and Compliance Consequences: Financial institutions are subject to stringent regulatory requirements to protect customer data and maintain the integrity of financial systems. Cyber attacks that result in data breaches or other security incidents can lead to regulatory scrutiny and potential fines or penalties. Institutions may also face legal liabilities and lawsuits from affected customers, further impacting their reputation and financial standing.
  • Reputational Damage: Cyber attacks on financial institutions can erode customer trust and confidence. The disclosure of a data breach or significant security incident can tarnish the institution’s reputation, leading to customer attrition and difficulties in attracting new customers. Rebuilding trust can be a challenging and time-consuming process, requiring transparent communication, enhanced security measures, and proactive efforts to protect customer data.


By prioritizing cybersecurity and adopting a proactive approach, financial institutions can help protect their own operations, safeguard customer data, and maintain trust in the financial services ecosystem.


In today’s interconnected world, critical infrastructure, such as power grids, transportation systems, tap water networks, communication networks, and financial institutions, is increasingly vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Hackers employ various methods to target critical infrastructure, each with devastating consequences. Malware and ransomware attacks can disrupt operations and hold systems hostage, while DDoS attacks can overwhelm networks, causing service disruptions. Supply chain attacks exploit vulnerabilities in the supply chain to compromise trusted components. Insider threats pose risks as privileged individuals abuse their access. Advanced persistent threats involve stealthy infiltration and monitoring of systems. Physical attacks target infrastructure directly.

Tap water systems can be targeted, leading to operational disruptions, water contamination, compromised water quality monitoring, and supply chain attacks that introduce vulnerabilities. Cyber attacks on power grids can cause blackouts, cascading failures, and prolonged disruption. Transportation systems are vulnerable to traffic management manipulations, aviation disruptions, maritime control compromises, railway system attacks, and threats to connected vehicles.

Communication networks can suffer service disruptions, data breaches, network infrastructure compromises, phishing attacks, mobile network exploitation, and infrastructure disruptions. Financial institutions face data breaches, financial fraud, ransomware attacks, operational disruptions, regulatory consequences, and reputational damage.

To mitigate these risks, organizations responsible for critical infrastructure must implement robust cybersecurity measures. This includes vulnerability assessments, network monitoring, incident response planning, employee training, and strong access controls. Collaboration between stakeholders is vital, including government agencies, private organizations, and security researchers. Individuals should also be aware of the potential threats and adopt cybersecurity best practices to protect themselves and their personal information.

At Adaptive Office Solutions, cybersecurity is our specialty. We keep cybercrimes at bay by using analysis, forensics, and reverse engineering to prevent malware attempts and patch vulnerability issues. By making an investment in multilayered cybersecurity, you can leverage our expertise to boost your defenses, mitigate risks, and protect your data with next-gen IT security solutions.

Every single device that connects to the internet poses a cyber security threat, including that innocent-looking smartwatch you’re wearing. Adaptive’s wide range of experience and certifications fills the gaps in your business’s IT infrastructure and dramatically increases the effectiveness of your cybersecurity posture.

Using our proactive cybersecurity management, cutting-edge network security tools, and comprehensive business IT solutions, you can lower your costs through systems that are running at their prime, creating greater efficiency and preventing data loss and costly downtime. With Adaptive Office Solutions by your side, we’ll help you navigate the complexities of cybersecurity so you can achieve business success without worrying about online threats.

To schedule a Cyber Security Risk Review, call the Adaptive Office Solutions’ hotline at 506-624-9480 or email us at