FBI investigating hacker's attempt to poison Bay Area water treatment plant

Built in the Bay

(Jessica McGowan / Getty Images)

By Ian Firstenberg

The FBI is investigating a hacker's reported attempt to poison an unnamed water treatment plant in the Bay Area in January of this year, according to NBC News.

The hacker's attempt was aided by the fact that they knew the password and username of a former employee's TeamViewer account. That allowed them to remotely access the plant's computers. The hacker used the access to delete programs used to treat drinking water.

When the plant discovered the hack the following day it changed the passwords and reinstalled the water treatment program. There have been no reports of anyone getting sick from the water. It's unclear what treatment program the hacker targeted or why.

NBC's reporting was the first time this attack was made public but the news organization reviewed a February report from the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center.

Notably, the method used in this attack was the same method used in a February attack on a Florida water plant. In that instance, one worker reported his computer mouse moved around his screen and opened programs. The hacker then increased levels of lye by more than 100 fold, according to The Washington Post.

Luckily, the Florida employee quickly reversed the lye levels and water quality was not impacted. There were no reports of people getting sick from the water.

In July 2020, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and National Security Agency recommended that operators of critical infrastructure take additional precautions to protect against "foreign powers attempting to do harm to U.S. interests or retaliate for perceived U.S. aggression."

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