Hacker changed chemical level in Florida water plant
(Feb 9): A hacker breached computer networks at a Oldsmar, Florida, water treatment plant, remotely delivering a 100-fold boost in a chemical that is highly dangerous in concentrated amounts.
In a particularly brazen attack with the potential to harm public health, the hacker on Feb. 5 gained access to a city computer and changed the level of sodium hydroxide — which is used to remove metals and control acidity — from 100 parts per million to 11,100 parts per million, according to Bob Gualtieri, who serves as the sheriff of Pinellas County.
This is a “significant and potentially dangerous increase,” Gualtieri said at a Monday press conference.
The operator of the water plant, whose computer was remotely taken over by the hacker, immediately lowered the level of the chemical, also known as lye, as soon as the hacker left the computer system. This move prevented any harm to the public and the drinking water, Gualtieri said. He said there were additional prevention measures within the water system that would have prevented tainted water from reaching the public.
It isn’t yet known if the breach originated from the U.S., or outside of the country, Gualtieri said.
An official at Mandiant, part of the cybersecurity company FireEye Inc., said that since last year the company has observed an increase in attacks against industrial systems.
“Many of the victims appear to have been selected arbitrarily, such as small critical infrastructure asset owners and operators who serve a limited population set,” said Daniel Kapellmann Zafra, manager of analysis at Mandiant Threat Intelligence. Through “remote interaction with these systems,” the hackers have engaged in “limited-impact operations.”
None of those instances resulted in any harm to people or infrastructure, Zafra said.