In A Terrifying Twist, Hacker Almost Poisons Florida Water Supply

When we hear of cyber attacks and data breaches, we tend to only think of digital world damage. But there’s real world consequences when a malicious entity has access to your computer system, files or network. Take this story for example.

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A water treatment plant employee in Oldsmar, Florida had a hacker remotely access his computer. His computer cursor was moving on it’s own, but since their IT often did troubleshooting via remote access, the employee wasn’t too concerned. But the attacker had started to change the water treatment plant’s controls, and was attempting to up the water supply’s level of sodium hydroxide, which regulates water PH levels. The level of sodium hydroxide started at 100 parts per million, but the hacker tried to move the setting to 11,100 parts per million. At this high of a dose, the chemical could severely damage human tissue if touched or ingested.

Luckily, the employee quickly returned the sodium hydroxide levels to normal, even though it would’ve taken 24 to 36 hours to affect the city’s drinking water. Not to mention that safeguards would have triggered an alarm and the change would have been noticed before the water quality was affected Still, the fact that someone was able to gain unauthorized access and maliciously overtake such an important resource is alarming.

As far as the public is aware, the company did not share details into how the hacker broke into the network to gain access to the controls, although they mentioned it was likely via the internet. In general, IT and OT networks should be segregated for cybersecurity purposes. There is still no information on where the attack originated from and whether the perpetrators are from within the United States or outside of it.

As this story demonstrates, maintaining computer security best practices and staying on top of potential cyber threats is paramount to maintaining the safety of your business or organization. If you don’t have safeguards in place to stop or alert you to potential threats, you run the risk of succumbing to a catastrophe. The water treatment plant was lucky that the employee noticed the mistake and that there were alerts along the way, however a similar incident like this one could occur again at any time.

Remember to stay vigilant of any suspicious activity as you go about your day, and make sure you have programs in place to alert you to any changes in your network security.

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