Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said the attacker tried to raise levels of sodium hydroxide
A hacker successfully altered the levels of chemicals in Oldsmar’s water supply to potentially damaging levels, according to officials.
Pinellas County, Florida, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said a plant operator at Oldsmar’s water treatment facility noticed someone remotely accessed the computer system he was monitoring, reported WFLA News.
This happened again the same afternoon, and the operator could see the mouse moving on the computer screen, opening software functions that controlled the water being treated in the system.
According to Gualtieri, the hacker increased the sodium hydroxide levels, also known as lye, in the city’s water from 100 parts per million (ppm) to 11,100 ppm. The hacker then exited the system and the operator immediately stabilized the levels back down in the water.
“This is obviously a significant and potentially dangerous increase,” said Gualtieri, reported WFLA News. “Sodium hydroxide is the main ingredient in liquid drain cleaners. It’s also used to control water acidity and remove metals from drinking water in the water treatment plants.”
According to the sheriff, the public was never in danger despite these actions. The city’s water supply was not affected, reported Reuters.
If the plant operator had not quickly reversed the increased amount of sodium hydroxide, it would have taken between 24 and 36 hours for that water to hit the water supply system, according to Gualtieri.
In a press conference, Oldsmar Mayor Eric Seidel said that the affected water treatment facility had other controls in place that would have prevented a dangerous amount of lye from entering the water supply.
The sheriff’s office does not have a suspect, but according to Gualtieri they do have a few leads. The FBI and U.S. Secret Service are assisting in the investigation, reported Reuters.
Investigators do not know whether the attack originated within or outside Pinellas County, Florida or the United States, reported Tampa Bay Times. If the attacker is apprehended, they will face state felony charges and possibly federal charges.
The city is currently reevaluating its policy on the continued need for remote access.