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A hacker was able to temporarily breach the cybersecurity system of a water treatment facility in Florida.
Last February, an unidentified hacker took control of a computer at the Bruce T. Haddock Water Treatment Plant in Oldsmar. The hacker fiddled with various programs before changing the amount of sodium hydroxide in the water. According to the Centers for Disease Control, consuming large amounts of the substance, which is an ingredient found in drain cleaners, could lead to vomiting and chest and abdominal pain. Fortunately, a plant operator noticed and adjusted the sodium hydroxide levels before it could contaminate the water supply.
According to authorities, the hacker easily exploited the weaknesses of the facility’s cybersecurity systems, which included an outdated Windows 7 operating system and poor password choices. Investigators said that the hacker likely used TeamViewer, a desktop sharing and remote access program, to control the plant’s computer.
Authorities also added that due to the plant operator’s quick actions, the public was in no immediate danger because it would have taken 24 to 36 hours for the contaminated water to leak into the system.
In a statement, the FBI urged IT administrators to ensure computers are up to date and to choose secure passwords. They also warned governments and companies to not use Windows 7 anymore because Microsoft no longer updates the operating system. To prevent being hacked, they recommend that people use two-step verification methods and keep records of users who access each system.
Oldsmar city manager Al Braithwaite said that remote access to the treatment facility’s computers had been deactivated. He added that the local government planned to replace the remote access system. Currently, authorities are trying to catch the culprit behind the hack.