Law enforcement officials have stated that an unidentified hacker attempted to digitally alter the composition of a city’s water supply to poison the water, and almost succeeded, according to CNN.
The incident concerned the water treatment systems of the city of Oldsmar, located in Pinellas County, Florida, on Friday, according to Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. An on-site operator watched an external intruder remotely gain access to the system, subsequently adjusting the water’s sodium hydroxide levels to 100 times its normal levels, which would produce a poisonous compound known as “lye,” enough to poison thousands of the city’s residents. The operator subsequently restored the original levels, and the hacker made no further attempts to alter the system.
“This is somebody who is trying, as it appears on the surface, to do something bad,” Sheriff Gualtieri said in a press conference. “It’s a bad actor. This isn’t just ‘Oh, we’re putting a little bit of chlorine or a little bit of fluoride, or a little bit of something,’ we’re basically talking about lye that you are taking from 100 parts per million to 11,100.”
Robert M. Lee, the CEO of cybersecurity company Dragos Inc., said that the attack “was not particularly sophisticated, but it’s exactly what folks worry about, and as one of a very few examples of someone making an attempt to hurt people, it’s a big deal for that reason.”
Sheriff Gualtieri emphasized at the press conference that there were multiple safeguards in place to prevent such a shift in the water’s composition from fully taking effect, noting that it already takes anywhere from 24 to 36 hours for the water to even reach the system. The Pinellas County Sheriff’s office is working with the FBI and Secret Service to jointly investigate the security breach.