Hackers broke into the computer system of a facility that treats water for about 15,000 people near Tampa, Fla., And sought to add a dangerous level of additive to the water supply, said Pinellas County Sheriff Monday.
Friday’s attempt was foiled. Hackers had remote access to a software program, named TeamViewer, on the computer of an employee of the Town of Oldsmar facility to gain control of other systems, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said in a statement. interview.
“The guy was sitting there watching the computer like he was supposed to and all of a sudden he sees a window pop up saying the computer has been accessed,” Gualtieri said. “The next thing you know is to drag the mouse, click and open programs, and manipulate the system.”
The hackers then increased the amount of sodium hydroxide, also known as lye, distributed in the water supply. The chemical is typically used in small amounts to control the acidity of water, but at higher levels it is dangerous to consume.
The factory worker alerted his employer, who called the sheriff. The water treatment plant was able to quickly reverse the order, which had minimal impact.
Oldsmar Mayor Eric Seidel told a press conference on Monday that the affected water treatment facility had also put in place other controls that would have prevented a dangerous amount of laundry from entering in the water supply without being noticed.
“The amount of sodium hydroxide that came in was minimal and reversed quickly,” Gualtieri said. The affected water treatment facility is a city-owned utility, he explained, which has its own in-house IT team. Oldsmar is approximately 17 miles northwest of Tampa and has a population of approximately 15,000.
TeamViewer, which states on its website that its software has been installed on 2.5 billion devices worldwide, enables remote technical support among other applications.
The FBI and the Secret Service have been called in to participate in an investigation. Gualtieri said he did not know who was responsible for the cyber attack.
“The important thing is to warn everyone,” he said. “It should be a wake-up call.”