Cybercriminals attack the wrong water company in bungled extortion attempt

On Monday, hacker group ClOp claimed to have gained access to 5TB of data from UK water supplier Thames Water and said it could change the chemical composition of the company's water supply.

Thames Water denied the reports and said it hadn't faced a cyber attack. Today it emerges that an attack has taken place but on a different company, South Staffordshire plc, the parent company of South Staffs Water and Cambridge Water.

The company denied that water supplies had been affected and said in a statement it has "robust systems and controls" in place to quickly implement emergency measures. It goes on to say it was still "experiencing disruption" to its corporate IT network and was "working to resolve this as quickly as possible".


Cl0p typically encrypts the files on victims' computers to make the IT systems unusable unless victims pay a ransom. In this instance though it demanded an extortion payment to prevent the release of the stolen data, and explain how it managed to gain access to the network.

Quite how the group managed to mis-identify the company it attacked is a mystery and -- let's face it -- quite funny, but there is a serious issue. Jamie Akhtar, CEO and co-founder of cybersecurity specialist CyberSmart says:

Although this attack appears to have been relatively benign, it does set a worrying precedent. We don't know how truthful the hackers' claims that they could 'easily change the chemical balance of the water' are. However, it is something a sophisticated attack could achieve, even with many water companies having robust protections in place.

In an age where cyber warfare has become much more common, we should all be on our guard.

A UK government spokesperson told Sky News, "We are aware that South Staffordshire Plc has been the target of a cyber incident. Defra and NCSC are liaising closely with the company." It went on to stress that there was no threat to the safe supply of drinking water.

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