A computer hacker gained access to the water system of a city in Florida and tried to pump in a “dangerous” amount of a chemical, officials say. The hacker briefly increased the amount of sodium hydroxide (lye) in Oldsmar’s water treatment system, but a worker spotted it and reversed the action.
Lye is used in small amounts to control acidity but a large amount could have caused major problems in the water. No arrests have yet been made and it is not known if the hack was done from within the US or outside. A computer controlling Oldsmar’s water treatment system was remotely accessed on Friday. A plant operator saw an attempt to access the system in the morning but assumed it was his supervisor, the Tampa Bay Times reported. But another attempt was made early in the afternoon and this time the hacker accessed the treatment software and increased the sodium hydroxide content from 100 parts per million to 11,100 ppm. The operator immediately reduced the level to normal. Authorities say the hacker took control of the computer’s mouse via TeamViewer, a remote access program that allows screen sharing for IT purposes.
Sodium hydroxide is the chief ingredient in liquid drain cleaners. Lye is very corrosive and can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and chest or abdominal pain if ingested in large quantities. It can also cause temporary hair loss, eye and skin burns or irritation to the eyes, skin and mucous membrane.