Hacker Tries to Poison the Water Supply of a Florida City

A computer hacker attempted to poison a city’s water supply in Florida on Monday, February 8th.

The unknown perpetrator was able to remotely access the water treatment system of the town of Oldsmar, which has a population of 15,000, and increased the sodium hydroxide (also known as lye) content by more than 100 times on Friday, February 5. The chemical is usually used in small amounts to control the acidity of the water. However, when ingested in large amounts it can cause burns and other problems.

An attentive plant operator noticed the increased lye content and asked the worker to take measures to bring the level back to normal.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said during a press conference Monday, “The hacker changed the sodium hydroxide from about 100 ppm to 11,100 ppm.”

While the facility operator has obviously done a great job identifying the anomaly and taking corrective action, Gualtieri says systems are already in place to automatically search for tainted water so that the poisoned supply would theoretically never have reached residents’ homes.

“The important thing is that the public was never in danger,” said the sheriff.

Gualtieri explained in more detail about the attack on Friday, including how the worker used software that controls the chemicals and other operations in the water treatment plant. The software enables remote access so that authorized users can troubleshoot system problems.

At around 1:30 p.m., the worker noticed someone had accessed the computer system, with the remote operator moving the mouse across the screen to open various software that controls the water treatment. Within about four minutes, the worker noticed that the remote operator was starting to change the amount of sodium hydroxide going into the water supply. The worker was able to observe this in real time and asked him to immediately reduce the level of the chemical back to the regular amount.

Law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, are currently investigating the hack to see if it was carried out inside the US or outside the country.

The incident is sure to come as a shock to those in charge of the critical infrastructure and provides a wake up call to ensure that appropriate measures are in place to prevent hackers from causing potentially immeasurable damage. In fact, Oldsmar Mayor Eric Seidel said during the press conference, “The most important thing is to get everyone’s attention … to make sure everyone realizes that this kind of bad actor is out there, it happens, so look Look at it carefully [your defenses]. ”

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