A computer hacker remotely gained access into the water treatment system of the city of Oldsmar in Florida, United States last Feb. 5, and tried to increase a “dangerous” amount of a chemical, officials reported.
According to Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtierim, the hacker increased the level of sodium hydroxide to 100 times its normal level, putting thousands of citizens at risk of being poisoned.
“This is obviously a significant and potentially dangerous increase. Sodium hydroxide, also known as lye, is the main ingredient in liquid drain cleaners,” Gualtieri said.
“This is somebody who is trying, as it appears on the surface, to do something bad. It’s a bad act. It’s a bad actor… We’re basically talking about lye that you are taking from 100 parts per million to 11,100,” Gualtieri also said.
An operator noticed the breach and immediately decreased the level of the chemical.
“At no time was there a significant adverse effect on the water being treated. Importantly, the public was never in danger,” Gualtieri said.
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Secret Service are currently investigating the breach.
It is not yet known if the breach was from someone inside the U.S. or outside.
The incident took place just two days before the annual football championship Super Bowl in the city of Tampa, which is about 30 kilometers away from Oldsmar.
According to Medline Plus of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, sodium hydroxide can cause extensive damage to the mouth, throat, and stomach for several weeks if ingested, and can also cause death.
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