Local water departments: Hackers tried to change chemical levels remotely.
The FBI and Secret Service are investigating after a hacker got into the computer system at a Florida water plant and boosted one chemical to one hundred times the safe level.
When Elizabethton water resources general manager Johann Coetzee first heard about the breach, he immediately emailed the rest of his team.
“If there is any kind of news report of an activity or a breach at another utility, we immediately look at our ourselves to see if it can be mirrored in our utility,” he said.
Coetzee said this type of breach couldn’t happen here. Elizabethton did a study in 2018 to find all security vulnerabilities and replaced aging computer systems.
Chemical treatment levels are still done by physically turning knobs. Computers can only monitor levels and adjust water flow.
“We can’t control it but we can see what it is, and that is monitored with alarm systems,” Coetzee said.
It’s the same situation in Jonesborough.
“What would someone who has ill will have to get through to even have any kind of impact?” News 5’s Caleb Perhne asked director of water Kevin Brobeck.
“They would have to get through our gates,” Brobeck said. “They would have to cut the locks off our doors. They would have to get in. We have alarm systems.”
The most a hacker could do is overflow a water tank, but any changes would likely be quickly caught.
“We have a person in-house at the water plant 24 hours a day who’s monitoring everything,” Brobeck said.
But he won’t say it’s impossible. Attacks like these make local water departments check everything twice.
At the Florida plant, an employee noticed the mouse cursor moving on the screen and quickly changed the settings back. The increased chemicals never affected the water supply.