Hacker Tried to Flood Fla. City's Water Supply With Lye

Officials are investigating scary incident in Oldsmar
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 9, 2021 1:51 AM CST
Hacker Tries to Poison Florida City's Water Supply
In this screen shot from a YouTube video posted by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri speaks during a news conference as Oldsmar, Fla., Mayor Eric Seidel, left, listens, Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, in Oldsmar, Fla.   (Pinellas County Sheriff's Office via AP)

Thousands of people in a Florida city could have been poisoned had a hacker's plan come to pass. Authorities say the as-yet-unknown person hacked into Oldsmar's water treatment system Friday and tried to increase the levels of sodium hydroxide, also known as lye, to more than 100 times what is typical. A supervisor saw what was happening and immediately returned the sodium hydroxide to the correct level; authorities say there was never any adverse effect on the water supply, CNN reports. Had the operator not noticed, it would have taken 24 to 36 hours for the tainted water to reach the water supply, and several redundancies exist to alert workers levels are too high if something like this happens, authorities say.

Even so, this is the type of scenario cybersecurity experts are highly concerned about, especially as systems increasingly go online and become more accessible via the internet, the AP reports. "It was not particularly sophisticated, but it's exactly what folks worry about and as one of a very few examples of someone making an attempt to hurt people, it's a big deal for that reason," one such expert says. Oldsmar has disabled its remote-access system, and multiple agencies are investigating. While lye is used to treat water acidity, it is also the main ingredient in liquid drain cleaner, and is used in other cleaning supplies as well. It is caustic and can cause breathing difficulties, lung inflammation, throat swelling, burns, and more. (More Florida stories.)

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