Hack of water supply in small Florida town similar to Israeli attack blamed on Iran

Cyber experts aren’t sure where hack originated from – FBI investigating

A cyber-attack on a water treatment facility in a small town in Florida is raising questions about how vulnerable the water supply is at thousands of other locations around the United States as authorities attempt to determine who tried to poison the water two days before the Super Bowl.

On Capitol Hill Wednesday cybersecurity experts, including the former head of Department of Homeland Security’s cyber unit, debated who might be  responsible for the hack on the water supply in Oldsmar, Fla. located 12 miles outside Tampa.

"I think it's possible that this was an insider or a disgruntled employee. It is also possible that it was a foreign actor," Chris Krebs, the former director of the cybersecurity infrastructure security at DHS told the House Homeland Security Committee.


Michael Daniel, the president & CEO of Cyber Threat Alliance, thinks the attack co

ld have come from overseas.

"Iran has shown itself very interested in water systems in other countries like Israel and even in the United States," he told lawmakers.

Krebs said more money needs to be spent to upgrade software on the tens of thousands of water treatment facilities nationwide.

"It is almost counterintuitive that managing a system over the Internet might be a bad thing," Krebs added.HACKER TRIED TO POISON FLORIDA WATER SUPPLY NEAR SUPER BOWL, POLICE SAY

The hack on the cash-strapped water treatment plant in Oldsmar, Fla. with a population of 15,000 last Friday occurred just 12 miles from the Super Bowl stadium, northwest of Tampa. The botched hack briefly increased the amount of sodium hydroxide, or lye, by 100 fold before being discovered by an alert plant supervisor who saw a cursor move across a computer screen and change the chemical levels. The hacker was in and out within five minutes, authorities said.

Pinella County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said earlier this week, "We don't know right now whether the breach originated from within the United States or outside the country."

Gualtieri told reporters at no time was the public in danger. The FBI is investigating. A similar hack took place in Israel three times last year, including in April when suspected Iranian hackers targeted Israel’s water system by increasing chlorine levels in water flowing to residential areas.  A similar incident took place in July in Galilee shutting down agricultural pumps.

In the April attack, six water treatment facilities were hit. At one site, a pump went into continuous operation and data was changed at another,but no significant damage was recorded. Fox News first reported that Iran was likely behind the hack in Israel using American servers. A senior U.S. Department of Energy official said at the time the U.S. government was committed to protecting Israel from cyberattacks, but refused to comment specifically on the incident.


With the attack in Florida bearing a striking resemblance to the ones from April and July in Israel, Israeli officials have offered to help with the Florida case.

Israel’s National Cyber Directorate said in a statement to Fox News it "has contacted its U.S. equivalents about the case as part of the standard and accepted information sharing in the cyber field, which is intended to learn from other cases in the world and augment the methods of resistance."

In 2013 Iranian hackers infiltrated the control system of a small dam less than 20 miles from New York City. Details of that intrusion remain classified.

At the White House Thursday, President Joe Biden met with a group of bipartisan senators to talk about how to fix the nation's potholes and aging infrastructure, but it is not clear how they plan to address the increasing cyber-attacks on the nation's public networks - especially its water supply.

Experts have called the Florida hack ham-handed and the result of using remote access software connected to the internet with no apparent firewall. All the employees of this water treatment facility accessed the program using the same password.

There are 151,000 municipal water treatment facilities in the United States all of them potentially vulnerable to this kind of attack.

The Associated Press and Fox News’s Trey Yingst and Yonat Friling contributed to this report