Hacker attempts to contaminate water at treatment facility in Florida

A hacker broke into the computer system at facility in Florida that treats water for about 15,000 people in the town of Oldsmar near Tampa and sought to add a dangerous level of additive to the water supply.

Pinellas County’s sheriff said the facility staff were able to thwart the hacker who had gained remote access to TeamViewer software on a facility employee’s computer to gain control of other systems.

The hacker then increased the amount of sodium hydroxide, also known as lye, being distributed into the water supply. The chemical is typically used in small amounts to control the acidity of water but is dangerous to consume at higher levels.

“The guy was sitting there monitoring the computer as he’s supposed to and all of a sudden he sees a window pop up that the computer has been accessed,” Gualtieri said. “The next thing you know someone is dragging the mouse and clicking around and opening programmes and manipulating the system.”

The plant employee alerted his employer, who called the sheriff. The water treatment facility was able to quickly reverse the command, leading to minimal impact.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said the intruder was active for three to five minutes. When they exited, the plant operator immediately restored the proper chemical mix.

The FBI and Secret Service have been called in to assist in an investigation.

Gualtieri said he does not know who is responsible for the cyberattack.

“The important thing is to put everyone on notice,” he said. “This should be a wake-up call.”