Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Thwarted but possibly deadly hack of Florida water plant highlights dangers of poor cybersecurity for utilities

A recent cyberattack on a Florida water treatment plant highlights the threat hackers can pose to utilities and municipalities with inadequate cybersecurity. 

On Friday, an unknown hacker twice broke into a program that gives authorized users full, remote access to the Oldsmar water treatment plant in Pinellas County, and ordered it to increase the amount of lye in the water to extremely dangerous levels, Kevin Collier reports for NBC News. A plant operator noticed and reversed the change immediately, but if that hadn't happened and the plant's alarms didn't detect it either, the lye could have made it into people's taps within 24 to 36 hours.

The close call in this Tampa suburb serves as a reminder of the danger hackers pose to smaller jurisdictions. Small-town governments, utilities and hospitals are increasingly getting hit with cyberattacks in which hackers encrypt data and demand a ransom to unlock it. Since rural areas often have older systems and less tech-savvy workers, hackers see them as easier targets.

Rural utilities may be especially hard-pressed to pay for security upgrades right now, as financially struggling customers have a hard time paying their bills. 

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