OLDSMAR, FL – According to reports, the FBI and U.S. Secret Service on Tuesday joined in on the manhunt for a hacker suspect that attempted to poison the water supply of a Florida city last week by utilizing remote access software that had been installed months before.
The City of Oldsmar’s water treatment plant computer systems were breached twice last Friday using a dormant, password-protected remote access program called TeamViewer that is normally utilized by workers at the plant; as of the day of the incident, the program had not been used for at least six months. The hacker, once into the system, allegedly tried to increase levels of sodium hydroxide – also known as lye, which is usually found in drain cleaner – to over 100 times its normal level, which experts said is “dangerous.”
According to Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the identity of the hacker isn’t yet known, but that the public is not currently in any danger.
“The amount of sodium hydroxide that got in was minimal and was reversed quickly,” he said. “At no time was there a significant adverse effect on the water being treated. Importantly, the public was never in danger. The important thing is to put everyone on notice.”
Doctors consulted on the topic indicate that lye –normally used in small amounts to control the acidity of water – could potentially kill if you drank it straight; however, the levels that the hacker attempted to adjust Oldsmar’s water supply to wouldn’t have been fatal, but instead would have likely made people sick.
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TeamViewer is a popular software program that allows off-site users to remotely access and control computers, and currently there are approximately 200 million users across the world. However, cybersecurity experts have noted that there are underlying security issues with TeamViewer that may leave it vulnerable in the right circumstances; in addition, the incident in the Oldsmar has shined a light on the dangers of increased computerization of public systems and their accessibility via the internet.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed on Tuesday the federal government’s involvement in the Oldsmar water incident, saying,
“The FBI and Secret Service are undergoing an 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.”