Employee Indicted for Hacking Kansas Water Utility and Trying to Shut Down Key Systems

A federal grand jury is indicting a 22-year-old guy over accusations that he tampered with a public water system. Dude allegedly hacked into a computer system that controls a rural water utility in Ellsworth County, Kansas, then messing with the virtual processes that affect procedures for cleaning and disinfecting drinking water.

As if we didn’t have enough risks to drinking water to manage.

© Photo: Tony Gutierrez (AP)
As if we didn’t have enough risks to drinking water to manage.

On March 31, Wyatt Travnichek was charged with one count of tampering with a public water system and one count of reckless damage to a protected computer during unauthorized access. If convicted, he’ll face up to 25 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.


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The story is pretty wild. Travnichek actually worked at the water district, which services more than 1,500 retail customers and 10 wholesale customers in eight Kansas counties, from January 2018 to January 2019. Part of his role was to virtually monitor its water plant after hours by remotely log into the district’s computer system, so in a sense he was just doing his old job.

The Department of Justice alleges that he logged on with the intention to harm, though thankfully, according to Cyberscoop, no one was harmed. According to the indictment, Travnichek “accessed a protected computer without authorization,” then remotely logged on and “performed activities that shut down processes at the facility which affect the facility’s cleaning and disinfecting procedures.”

“By illegally tampering with a public drinking water system, the defendant threatened the safety and health of an entire community,” Lance Ehrig, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division in Kansas, said in a statement. “EPA and its law enforcement partners are committed to upholding the laws designed to protect our drinking water systems from harm or threat of harm. Today’s indictment sends a clear message that individuals who intentionally violate these laws will be vigorously prosecuted.”

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What’s even more bonkers than this guy’s actions, though, was that he was able to carry them…