Someone tried to poison an entire Florida town’s water by hacking into its water treatment system, a local sheriff’s office said.
Officials said a hacker gained access to the water treatment system in Oldsmar, Florida, on Friday and tried to raise levels of sodium hydroxide, commonly called lye, in the town’s water, putting thousands of people at risk of poisoning. The operator noticed the intrusion and watched as the hacker gained remote access to the system. According to Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the hacker increased sodium hydroxide levels by more than 100 times.
The operator immediately lowered the level back down. According to Gualtieri, it is not yet known whether the intrusion came from someone locally, nationally or from overseas.
Early intervention prevented the attack from having a more serious impact, said Robert M. Lee, chief executive officer of Dragos Inc. – an industrial cybersecurity company. But, he said, this particular type of attack keeps industry experts up at night.
“It wasn’t particularly sophisticated, but it’s exactly what people are worried about because someone is deliberately trying to hurt people,” Lee said.
Gualtieri said it would have taken 24 to 36 hours for the water to reach the system, and there are several backup mechanisms that could have warned that levels were too high before it happened. The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, FBI and Secret Service are jointly investigating the violation.