Hackers Tried Poisoning Florida Water Treatment System


According to officials in Florida city, a hacker managed to gain access into the city’s water treatment system in Oldsmar. In an attempt to try to increase the sodium hydroxide levels, also commonly known as lye, in the city’s water, by putting thousands of lives at risk of being poisoned.

Hackers Tried Poisoning Florida Water Treatment System

The incident was put to action on Friday. An operator however noticed the intrusion and observed the hacker’s remote access to the water system. According to the operator, the levels of sodium hydroxide in water were adjusted 100 times more than the normal level by the hacker. Bob Gualtieri, Sherriff at Pinellas County, released the statement. 

Hackers Tried Poisoning Florida Water Treatment System

Upon noticing the intrusion and the modified and dangerously high levels of sodium hydroxide, the operator immediately come to action. He quickly reduced the sodium hydroxide level back to normal. According to Sherriff Gualtieri, no time was wasted while reducing down the levels to normal. The city’s water supply didn’t face any adverse effects at any time. The public was, thus, never in danger. 

According to Sherriff, it is still unknown if the breach in security and the hacking happened from the hacker who is a local guy, or at national level, or may be outside the United States. 

Sherriff Gualtieri said that looking only at surface, it seems if someone is trying hard to do something really bad. Referring to the hacking incident, Gualtieri said that it indeed is a bad act and that a bad actor.

Gualtieri backed his opinion by saying that increasing the sodium hydroxide level in water is not a light incident. It is not like if we are just adding in a little bit of essential minerals, or fluoride or may be some chloride. He said that they are dealing with an increased level of lye. The permitted amount of lye is 100 parts per million to 11,100. This is a serious matter.

In words of Robert M. Lee, the CEO of Dragos Inc., the attack was prevented and that the city is saved from a more severe aftereffects due to an early intervention. Dragos Inc. is an Industrial cybersecurity company. He also added that such attacks are the reason behind the long night shifts that keep the industry experts awake at night. 

Lee said that although the matter itself is not much sophisticated, but the incident is one of those things that folks worry about. It is one of the few examples where someone is making an attempt to hurt people. For the very reason of public safety, it is a big deal.

According to Sherriff Gualtieri, around 24-36 hours of time is required for the water to reach the system. Due to several redundancies in place, the authorities would have been notified about the increased levels of sodium hydroxide.  This alert would have anyways prevented anything bad to happen. However, now the city has taken necessary steps to further deny any access into the system.

He also added that the investigations are jointly carried out by Pinella County Sherriff’s office, secret services and the FBI. 

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted that the incident of water hacking will be treated as a national security issue. The FBI is also asked to provide all the necessary assistance in the case. 

University of Florida Health Systems said that sodium hydroxide or lye is one of the main ingredients in liquid drain cleaner. Symptoms due to sodium hydroxide poisoning may include lung inflammation, breathing issues, swelling in throat, esophagus and stomach burn, severe abdominal pain, low blood pressures, vision loss, etc. 

Death can also result after a month of swallowing of the chemical. However, it is still unknown what symptoms could have been observed with the increased level of lye in the water in Florida. 

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