Water Treatment Facility Gets Hacked

Category: Technology/Innovations


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. fiddle with (something) / ˈfɪd l wɪθ / (phrasal) – to touch or change something without knowing exactly what to do

    Henry fiddled with the photocopier’s buttons, trying to get it to work.

  2. contaminate / kənˈtæm əˌneɪt / (v) – to make something dirty or dangerous by putting harmful things, such as chemicals, in it

    Toxic waste from the factory is contaminating the river.

  3. exploit / ɪkˈsplɔɪt / (v) – to use or take advantage of something in an unfair way

    The company was accused of exploiting its overtime system to not pay employees correctly.

  4. outdated / ˌaʊtˈdeɪ tɪd / (adj) – not modern

    The library’s computers are really outdated. I think they were bought over 10 years ago.

  5. culprit / ˈkʌl prɪt / (n) – someone who is responsible for a crime

    After three days, the police finally caught the culprit.


Read the text below.

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.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• In your opinion, why do you think the hacker hacked the water treatment facility (e.g. as a joke, to really hurt people)? Explain.
• How do you think authorities should punish the hacker once they catch him/her (e.g. jail time, fines)? Discuss.

Discussion B

• Why do you think many companies and governments still use outdated computer systems (e.g. not enough resources to upgrade, employees are used to working with old computer systems)? Discuss.
• Do you think cybercrimes will become more common in the future? Why or why not?