Hackers have successfully accessed the computer system of the water treatment facility in OldSmar city Florida. As first reported by Tampa Bay Times, the hackers gained access through remote control. In doing so, they altered the chemical levels of the water supply by increasing the amount of sodium hydroxide content. Thankfully the supervisor was able to take control of the incident before causing harm to the residents.

Florida Water Supply System of 15,000 Residents Hacked, Changing Chemical Levels
(Photo : Photo by Pankaj Patel on Unsplash)

A Detailed Report of the OldSmar Plant Hacking Incident

The plant operator who was in charge of monitoring the system shared the detailed anecdote of how he found out about the hacking incident. At about 8 AM on Friday, the operator noticed that his mouse started moving without him controlling it.

For him, it wasn't unusual since his supervisor regularly accessed the system himself on a regular basis. However, at about 1:30pm, the system was accessed again. As he watched the mouse move, it went into the system that controlled the water treatment settings. For about three to five minutes, the system was maneuvered where the sodium hydroxide was increased to 11,100 parts instead of 100 parts per million. Once the attacker logged out of the system, the operator immediately brought back the concentration to 100 parts per million.

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No Resident Harmed in Floria Water Supply Hack

Sodium Hydroxide also known as Iye or caustic soda is a versatile substance used in the water's manufacturing process to regulate acidity levels. In excess, it can be corrosive and dangerous since it's an inorganic compound used in most household cleaners.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said on a press conference that was published on YouTube that "At no time was there a significant adverse effect on the water being treated."

"Importantly, the public was never in danger", he added.

The county assured that despite the incident, there were safeguards in place that prevented it from causing harm to the 15,000 residents. The water system change would have taken 24 hours for it to enter the water supply according to the sheriff. Thus, numerous warnings and preventative measures could still be done following the incident. Moreover, "redundancies in the system" would catch the changes in the water acidity.

Hacking Instances in Public Systems

As told by the Washington Post, the Florida incident was not the first instance that hackers have intruded a public system. Last year in November, a group of Russian hackers allegedly targeted a water supply system. Another group of cyber attackers had attempted to manipulate the water supply in Israel which was linked to activities involving Iran officials.

Although fortunately, the incident did not cause harm or injury,it can still be disturbing proof of how public systems have vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers. Moreover the intention of these attackers targeting public infrastructures is still being studied. Pinellas County as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Meanwhile, other cities and towns have been alerted of possible threats.

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Written by Nikki D

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