UPDATED 9:28 AM PT – Tuesday, February 9, 2021
Federal and local authorities are working to track down a hacker who attempted to poison a water system in Oldsmar, Florida.
During a press briefing on Monday, officials in Pinellas County said an unknown suspect broke into a computer system that controls a water treatment facility, which cleans water for roughly 15,000 people.
Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said the cyber attack happened on Friday, noting that the hacker attempted to infiltrate the system twice. Police said the computer system that controls the water plant has a software program, which allows authorized users to access it remotely.
After they were notified of the attack, the water system’s operators were able to return the levels back to normal quickly. According to the CDC, sodium hydroxide, if consumed in large amounts, can cause vomiting as well as chest and abdominal pain.
“Sodium hydroxide, also known as lye, is the main ingredient in liquid drain cleaners,” explained Sheriff Gualtieri. “It is also used to control water acidity and to remove metals from drinking water in the water treatment plants.”
Holy Christ—Hackers almost poisoned the sodium hydroxide levels in a water treatment facility in Florida by 100-fold via directly manipulating the remote interface, & changed Sodium Hydroxide levels from 100 ppm to **11,000 ppm**, which would’ve been devastating to health. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/csB3OsjUoL
— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) February 9, 2021
Gualtieri warned other systems could be prone to cyber attacks in the future as officials do not yet know if the hacker was a domestic or an international actor.
“This type of activity, in this type of hacking of critical infrastructure, is not necessarily limited to attacking water supply systems…it can be anything,” he stated. “It could really be problematic and this is where we want to make sure what we’re paying close attention to all of it.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) commented on the attack in tweet. He told his constituents he has asked the FBI provide all assistance necessary in investigating the crime. He also noted how this attack should be treated as a matter of national security.
This should be treated as a matter of national security.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) February 8, 2021
Local authorities have launched a criminal investigation with the Secret Service and FBI actively working to find who is responsible for the attack.