Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Don’t Drink The Water

Someone hacked into the water system in Oldsmar, Florida. Via the Tampa Tribune:

Local and federal authorities are investigating after an attempt Friday to poison the city of Oldsmar’s water supply, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said.

Someone remotely accessed a computer for the city’s water treatment system and briefly increased the amount of sodium hydroxide, also known as lye, by a factor of more than 100, Gualtieri said at a news conference Monday. The chemical is used in small amounts to control the acidity of water but it’s also a corrosive compound commonly found in household cleaning supplies such as liquid drain cleaners.

The city’s water supply was not affected. A supervisor working remotely saw the concentration being changed on his computer screen and immediately reverted it, Gualtieri said. City officials on Monday emphasized that several other safeguards are in place to prevent contaminated water from entering the water supply and said they’ve disabled the remote-access system used in the attack.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is investigating, along with the FBI and the Secret Service, Gualtieri said.

This incident got national attention. Some speculated that it might be foreign powers (RUSSIA!) or some terrorist organization. As yet, no one really knows. But Adam L. Silverman at Balloon Juice happens to live in Oldsmar. He has a long resume in national security matters, and he is pretty sure that it wasn’t Putin, despite his reputation as using poison as his weapon of choice.

There are several reasons why I doubt this was the Russians. The first is that right now Putin does not want to do anything to further stress Russian relations with the US. President Biden and his team are not Trump and his team. And President Biden has already made it clear to Putin that he is not going to tolerate Putin’s actions the way Trump did. The second is that since almost no one in most of Florida, let alone the rest of the US knows that Oldsmar existed, at least before today, that it is a very strange place for Putin’s merry band of mischief makers to target a water treatment facility.

I think it is far more likely that either a disgruntled current or former employee of the City of Oldsmar or of Pinellas County who knew that this point of access existed and exploited it for their own purposes. Or that a local mischief maker went probing for an access point, found one, and decided it was party time. We do have a small, but sizable white supremacist, neo-NAZI, and domestic right wing extremist presence in the area, so it is also possible one of them did it. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if we find out that an actual authorized user who was teleworking and on the system stepped away from their computer for a few minutes without logging out to get something to drink or use the facilities and their cat walking across the computer desk or their toddler wanting to help daddy or mommy work unintentionally reset the levels. I think the Russians attacking Oldsmar, Florida through a water treatment facility that only supplies Oldsmar is, in my professional opinion, a big stretch. Is it possible it was the Russians? Sure. Is it probable and plausible? I think it likely improbable and implausible.

We’ll know more when we know more. And I know enough about what I don’t know to state that I could be wrong.

I’m going with the cat theory.