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Hacker broke into and altered water treatment in Florida


A hacker broke into and managed to change a configuration at a water treatment plant in the city of Oldsmar, a city in the Tampa region of Florida, USA. The invasion took place last Friday, February 5, according to an interview given by Sheriff Bob Gualtieri (video below). During the invasion, the hacker temporarily changed the plant’s sodium hydroxide concentration to a potentially dangerous level, the sheriff said.

The attacker changed the level of sodium hydroxide from 100 parts per million to 11,100 parts per million, said Bob Gualtieri. Treatment plants use sodium hydroxide to purify water, but in large quantities it can be dangerous for people.

The violation did not cause any damage to public health or water distribution.

“This is someone who is trying, at least apparently, to do something bad … He’s a terrible actor,” said Gualtieri at the news conference. “At no time was there a significant adverse effect on the treated water. It is important to note that the public was not in danger ”.

No suspects have been identified and it is not clear whether the hacker is in the United States or abroad, said Gualtieri. The FBI and the US Secret Service are helping with the investigation, he added.

The hacker broke into the system twice, according to Gualtieri, taking advantage of the remote access software that operators use for maintenance. Shortly after changing the sodium hydroxide level, a plant operator noticed and reversed the change, according to authorities.

It would take 24 to 36 hours before the altered water entered the city’s water supply, and there were redundancies to prevent this from happening, according to Gualtieri. The incident in Oldsmar, a city of about 15,000, raises doubts about the safety of operating technology (OT) systems.

“Obviously, we deactivated the program that allowed this to happen,” said the water treatment plant manager. “And we are going to do some updates on other parts of the system to try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.” An FBI spokesman said the Tampa office is “working with the city of Oldsmar and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, offering resources and assistance in investigating this incident.”

Cybersecurity in the water sector has traditionally not received the same level of attention as other industrial sectors, such as electricity and oil and gas. Supposedly Iranian hackers broke into a water treatment plant in Israel in April 2020.

With international agencies

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