It was the sort of nightmare scenario cybersecurity experts have been warning of for years. Friday morning hackers gained access to the computerized system controlling the water supply in Oldsmar, the city at the north end of Tampa Bay, and tried to poison customers by altering the chemical balance in the water.
The hackers briefly succeeded, raising the level of sodium hydroxide from 100 parts per million to over 11,000. Sodium hydroxide, a lye, is a powerful chemical used to clean drains, pulp wood, make bleaches and innumerable other functions. In water-treatment plants, it’s used to slightly raise the acidity of the water to reduce corrosion and lead content. The chemical is harmful to humans when they’re exposed to it beyond certain levels.
“This is obviously a significant and potentially dangerous increase,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said on Monday. But the attack was foiled in time, before it could cause harm, though the attack was repeated at least once before it was ended as hackers literally took over the controls of the Oldsmar water system as if they were an employee of the utility. Employees routinely access the system remotely for monitoring purposes, so when hackers did, they went undetected.
A supervisor witnessed the second attack and prevented the chemicals from being dangerously altered before calling in the Sheriff’s Office. The FBI has since joined the hunt for the hackers, which quickly rippled into alarms across the state and the nation.
“It’s a security concern,” Palm Coast City Manager Matt Morton told the city council at the end of a workshop just before noon today. He sought to reassure them: Palm Coast was not, and is not, in danger of being hacked, though that degree of certainty can fluctuate: moments later, Morton was also discussing the need for spending on the system’s safety infrastructure.
“You can never be secure enough,” Morton said. “It’s something that caused us all to stop very early this morning, very late last night and say, let’s use this as a learning tool and continue as we move forward. It’s something that’s very scary, very real, and it’s unfortunate to see that attack on a municipal water system in the state of Florida.”
He described the Oldsmar incident as “a very unfortunate, very serious attack on a municipal water system,” but not quite a surprise. “This is a conversation we’ve been having as municipal leaders for years,” Morton said.
“I don’t want to get into any detail for obvious reasons,” he said, before explaining in general terms why Palm Coast’s utility is relatively safe. “One, we do not use the system that was compromised, thankfully, IT moved from that years ago because of vulnerabilities. More importantly, IT has been working on a project for some time to follow industry best practices and isolate all of our critical services off internet access, internet-facing servers. ” The council will be hearing more about this in the future, as it will entail capital spending.
Matt Guiliano says
Something is definitely wrong with the water on beachside! We don’t even let our dog drink tap water. The tap water has killed ALL of our indoor plants, killed our Christmas tree and so on. The only way to have plants over here is to water with bottled water and obviously we’re NOT doing that. Step up Flagler County/ City of Palm Coast! IJS
Too many tapping the tap so to speak. In FPC the Utilty system is over burdened and personally feel there is high salt content beachside due to rising tides low water tables. IMO
Idk & idc says
🤔🤔🤔Sounds to me like a black thumb problem more so than a water issue🤣🤣🤣
Just in time for Superbowl. What a coincidinky!
Robin Holman says
I am grateful II have an excellent system and an artesian well .I controlled my water quality and it is excellent.Keep you city water,I have heard for years it’s garbage.
Hopefully, the FBI will make some investigative time available from its exhaustive focus on “white supremacists” and Trump fans to deal with this case and what it portends.
The water at FPC is atrocious. the water fountains at the sports fields had the tape removed so players could drink it, but before we had to use the sink. I was almost immediately ill and had to stop practicing and sit in the shade. water at my house is connected to Volusia, and its like drinking out of the fountain of youth. FIX YOUR WATER PALM COAST.
Fresh water will be worth more then an ounce of gold for 1 gallon very soon…….. Start collecting 20 gallon water cans and drops of chlorine to keep them fresh and clean. The day is coming when Florida will be OUT of fresh clean WATER !!!!!