The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office along with the FBI and the Secret Service are investigating how a hacker accessed a computer to the city of Oldsmar, Florida‘s water treatment center. The hacker increased the amount of sodium hydroxide also known as lye in the water system to dangerous levels. Ingestion of high levels of sodium hydroxide can be fatal. Officials are still looking for a suspect and following leads according to the Sheriff of Pinellas County, Bob Gualtieri.
Last Friday, February 5, an employee of the Oldsmar water treatment center noticed the levels of lye were being changed through someone remotely controlling his computer. Oldsmar provides water directly to businesses in about 15,000 Florida residence and is located in the Tampa Bay area. The attacker was in the system for roughly 5 minutes to make the change and left the system after doing so. The operator that caught it immediately changed the lye levels back after the attacker had exited the system. Luckily, this can be called a failed attack since the employee reverted the amounts of lye before it affected the city’s water supply.
Officials also noted that other precautionary safeguards have been implemented to further prevent any contaminated water from entering the water supply. They have also disabled the remote access system that was used in the attack. Senator Marco Rubio took to Twitter to say that this attack should be treated as a matter of national security. Once the hacker is found, he or she will face felony charges and potentially federal charges. Investigators are still unsure if the attacker is local to Florida or the United States.
Read more about this cyberattack here.
Cybersecurity experts including NXTsoft spokesman, Frank Abagnale, have warned against the potential for hackers to infiltrate municipalities and implement public health attacks. Cyberattacks such as this date all the way back to 2007. Small municipalities are often arbitrarily targeted, and incidents are not always as easily caught. It is more important and crucial than ever for the safety of municipalities and the public for cybersecurity to be a top priority.