Search Is on for Hacker Who Tried Poisoning Florida Water Supply With Lye, Police Say | Inside Edition

Search Is on for Hacker Who Tried Poisoning Florida Water Supply With Lye, Police Say

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Sodium hydroxide, also known as lye, is the main ingredient in liquid drain cleaners, explained Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, during a news conference CBS reported. “It’s dangerous stuff,” said Gualtieri.

Federal investigators are searching for the person who tried to remotely poison a public water supply in Pinellas County, Florida, CBS News reported. The alleged hacker gained control of the computer system's mouse and opened various functions on the screen, including changing the sodium hydroxide in the water supply from about 100 parts per million to more than 11,100 parts per million, CBS News reported.

Sodium hydroxide, also known as lye, is the main ingredient in liquid drain cleaners, explained Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, during a news conference, CBS reported. “It’s dangerous stuff,” said Gualtieri.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, if sodium hydroxide is ingested in large amounts, it can cause vomiting, chest and abdominal pain.

Gualtieri stressed during the briefing that “the public was never in danger." "At no time was there a significant adverse effect on the water being treated." 

The alleged hack occurred two days before the Super Bowl, in a city about 30 miles from Raymond James Stadium, CBS reported. 

The disturbing discovery was made around 1:30 p.m. Friday by a plant operator who was monitoring the water plant in the Tampa Bay city of Oldsmar. For between three and five minutes, the operator saw his mouse dash around his screen, as he tracked the arrow as it clicked open one software function after another. Once the arrow landed on the controls to the water’s levels of sodium hydroxide, the operator saw the numbers raise to an exorbitant level. Moments later, the operator was able to reduce the levels back to a safe amount, police said, The Washington Post reported.

Oldsmar Mayor Eric Seidel said the monitoring protocols they have in place work but noted the incident was a reminder that water systems are vulnerable, the Post reported.

“These kinds of bad actors are out there,” Seidel said, 

Many of  nation’s critical infrastructures, such as water systems and other public utility systems, can be vulnerable targets, Gualtieri said to the Post.  And, whoever broke into the system, "had to use some pretty sophisticated ways of doing it," Gualtieri said.

Police have not identified suspects but said they are following a few leads. Authorities also don’t know if the hacker was foreign or domestic and are unclear of the motive, the Post reported. 

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