FBI Called After Oldsmar Water Hack

Lauren Abshire
Director of Content Strategy   United States Cybersecurity Magazine

On February 8, 2021, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri of Pinellas County, Florida gave a press conference surrounding the unlawful intrusion (hack) into the City of Oldsmar’s water plant treatment system (which had taken place on February 5, 2021). The hacker took remote control of one of the Plants’ operator’s machine. After that it took merely minutes for this hacker to increase the sodium hydroxide (also known as lye) by 100 factors. This can be lethal. Sodium hydroxide is used to remove metals and control water acidity. Luckily, the Plant operator was able to quickly reset the levels back to normal. The hacker did not try just once, but twice.

Law Enforcement reported that the claim was supported by the computer logs. The Oldsmar water hack was reported by an employee of the Plant, the employee reported to the Sherriff’s Department, who in turn reported it to the FBI. The FBI is currently working with the City and Sherriff’s Office to find the person responsible. Sherriff Gualtieri stated that “We do not have a suspect identified, but we do have leads that we’re following.”

The City Manager, Al Braithwaite reported that there are pH alarms throughout the system, so even if the Plant had not noticed this system intrusion right away, there would have been alarms throughout the entire system. The Oldsmar Plant sometimes uses remote-access to trouble-shoot problems and monitor the system. This remote-access has now been disabled Braithwaite reports, as well as the City is making continued and furthered updates to its systems.

The White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki also addressed the Oldsmar Water hack in her press release. Psaki reported that cybersecurity remains a main focus of the Biden administration. Psaki reported “As was announced earlier today, the FBI and Secret Service are undergoing an investigation,” she said. “That’s something we’d certainly defer to them on their specific findings of that investigation. I will say broadly speaking that the president, the vice president and members of our national security team are focused on elevating cybersecurity as a threat that has only increased over the past several years. That’s why they’ve made it an across-government focus and why he has elevated positions in the White House and other parts of our government.”


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