CHARLOTTE COUNTY, Fla. — A system hack could’ve turned deadly in Pinellas County, putting Southwest Florida leaders on high alert. Luckily, a water management operator in the small town of Oldsmar caught the breech before hackers poisoned water for thousands of people.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced someone hacked a water treatment plant in the City of Oldsmar on Friday. The hacker boosted levels of sodium hydroxide or lye to 100 times its normal level. A supervisor noticed caught it before it got pumped into 15,000 faucets.
Cyber, network security engineer Evan Lutz with Cigent Technology says cyber threat have always been out there, but the pandemic has made it worse.
“Everybody who’s using remote access needs to be aware,” he said. “With everything that’s been happening with COVID, and with everybody being forced to work from home, these remote access solutions are becoming more and more popular.”
Sheriff Gualtieri warned governmental entities in the Tampa Bay Area to be vigilant.
Southwest Florida agencies shared how they’re monitoring their online systems.
Lee County’s website was hacked in September of 2019. It’s running fine now, but a county spokesperson said that investigation is still active, so they couldn’t comment on it. In a statement they said:
Nationwide, utilities that provide drinking water – including Lee County Utilities – actively and regularly discuss fortifying infrastructure and networks. Cybersecurity is critical – regardless of whether it is data or utilities – and we are proactively monitoring and working on updating protocols as needed to ensure our system’s integrity for customer health and safety.
Following that attack, Charlotte County’s Utilities Director Craig Rudy says the county launched a cyber audit of all their facilities.
“We’re spending anywhere between three and five million dollars over the next five years to boost our security,” he said.
Rudy says that included drinking water and waste water services. He says they’re changing how they’re connected to the internet and updating all their systems.
“Taking us off the Lee County network, buy our own network. We’re also looking at replacing all our hardware and software for our facilities,” he said.
Rudy says within the next five years all the changes from last year’s audit should be in place. He added by that point, it’ll be time to do another audit.
The FBI is working with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office to find who hacked the water treatment system.