Unknown attacker attempts to poison water supply

Edward Kost
Edward Kost
February 9, 2021

Cyberattacks tend to fall into two categories - data breaches and reconnaissance campaigns. Only in Hollywood movies do we see hackers puppeteering vast mechanical processes with just a few crisp keystrokes.

But an unknown attacker has peeled the action off the cinema screen and applied it to a water treatment facility in Florida.

The attack didn’t occur in clandestine Hollywood fashion, but with complete transparency before a bewildered staff member. 

The attacker used the software TeamViewer to remotely access a water treatment plant that serves the town of Oldsmar in Florida.

The incident was preceded by a window pop up saying that the targeted computer was being accessed remotely. The staff member behind the screen didn’t find this unusual since the company installed TeamViewer for regular remote access.

But what happened next was anything but.

The staff member watched the cursor open programs and manipulate settings, increasing the level of lye (Sodium Hydroxide) in the water supply. 

Purification processes use small doses of lye to control water acidity, but in high doses, this chemical could be lethal.

The water treatment facility quickly reverted the malicious actions, minimizing the impact on the water supply.

Sheriff Gualtieri was contacted alongside the FBI and Secret Service to assist with the investigation.

"The amount of sodium hydroxide that got in was minimal and was reversed quickly," Sheriff Gualtieri said.

Sheriff Gualtieri also confirmed that the public was never in danger and that the city’s water supply was not affected.

This a deliberate attack against the 15,000 residents relying on the water supply. If the staff member happened to step away from the computer at the time, the outcome would have been devastating.

Remote access solutions have helped businesses adapt to the sudden remote workforce transition. But if third-party software is being exposed through overlooked data leaks, these helpful tools can be quickly converted into dangerous attack vectors.

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TeamViewer is a proprietary software application for remote control, desktop sharing, online meetings, web conferencing, and file transfer between computers.
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