Hackers tried to contaminate the water by infiltrating the Florida town’s water supply via a computer.
According to Reuters, the Sheriff of Pinellas County said on Monday that the hackers entered the computer system of a facility that was increasing the water for about 15,000 people near Tampa, Florida, and tried to add a dangerous additive to the water supply.
The attempt on Friday was blocked. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said in an interview that the hackers gained remote access to the TeamViewer program on an employee’s computer in the town of Oldsmar.
“The man was watching the computer as he should have been sitting there, and suddenly a window popped up stating that the computer was being accessed,” said Gualtieri. “The next thing we saw was drag the mouse around and click around to open programs and try to manipulate the system.”
The hackers then increased the amount of sodium hydroxide, also known as soda water, that was dispensed into the water supply. The chemical is typically used in small amounts to control the acidity of water, but consuming higher levels is dangerous.
The factory worker warned his employer who was looking for the sheriff. The water treatment plant quickly reversed the command, with minimal impact.
Oldsmar Mayor Eric Seidel said at a news conference Monday that there are other controls at the affected water treatment plant that will prevent dangerous amounts of caustic from entering the water supply unnoticed.
“The amount of sodium hydroxide that went in was minimal and quickly reversed,” said Gualtieri. The affected water treatment plant is a town-owned utility that has its own internal IT team. Oldsmar is about 27 km northwest of Tampa and has about 15,000 residents.
On its website, TeamViewer states that its software has been installed on 2.5 billion devices worldwide, providing remote technical support among other applications.
The FBI and Secret Service have been called in to assist with the investigation. Gualtieri said he did not know who was responsible for the cyber attack.
“The important thing is to inform everyone,” he said. “This must be a wake-up call.”