Local water supply hacked

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Sheriff Bob Gualtieri gives press conference on attempted hacking of Oldsmar water system. Source: CNN

Emma Guenther, Staff Writer

On Monday, February 8th, someone hacked into the Oldsmar water treatment system. The hacker attempted to increase the levels of sodium hydroxide, or lye, in the city’s water, which could have poisoned thousands of individuals. Fortunately, an operator noticed the intrusion and watched the hacker access the system remotely and adjust the sodium hydroxide content to over 100 times its usual level.

Thankfully for the city of Oldsmar, the operator immediately reduced the level to normal and therefore the city’s water supply was never significantly affected and no lives were endangered. However, the hacker’s identity is still unknown, and it is unclear whether the breach happened from someone locally, nationally, or even internationally.

This individual was undoubtedly attempting to harm many people, and it is quite alarming that they were able to obtain remote access to an entire city’s water supply in the first place. The city has since taken steps to prevent future invasion, and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, FBI, and Secret Service are all investigating the attack.

Some are even calling for the incident to be taken more seriously. Senator Marco Rubio tweeted that “this should be treated as a matter of national security,” and this really isn’t unreasonable. Sodium hydroxide is the main ingredient in liquid drain cleaner, and poisoning by this compound can cause breathing difficulties, lung inflammation, throat swelling, burning of the esophagus and stomach, severe abdominal pain, vision loss, and low blood pressure. Long term effects include continuing damage to the esophagus and stomach weeks later, and death can occur as long as a month later. It is important that this matter be taken seriously, as it could happen in another city and be much more detrimental. While it is unclear how dangerous the levels induced by this hacker were, it is entirely possible for a similar attack to go unnoticed and threaten lives.