Oldsmar tightens up security following water plant hack | North County

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OLDSMAR — The city of Oldsmar became world renowned for all the wrong reasons after the North Pinellas community’s water treatment plant suffered a software breach over Super Bowl weekend.

The Feb. 5 hack, which investigators said involved an unknown party accessing the facility’s computer system and altering the chemical composition of the water supply, received international attention and shined a spotlight on the shortcomings of a critical component of the nation’s infrastructure system.

Officials said the breach attempted to raise the level of sodium hydroxide, commonly known as lye, in the water supply to dangerous levels. It was spotted by a plant worker, who notified a supervisor who subsequently called the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, leading some to praise the alert employee.

“I commend the vigilance of the staff to catch something like that,” said Josiah Cox, president and founder of Central States Water Resources, which operates more than 250 water treatment plants in five midwestern states. “Small systems actually a lot of times are harder to run than larger systems just because you don’t have the redundancies and larger staffs and the same resources. So, the fact that they were paying that close attention to what was going on was really awesome and shows how much they care.”

While the worker’s quick actions drew praise, the reason behind the breach, reportedly attributed to a combination of outdated software and lax screen-sharing practices, earned criticism from all corners of the globe. It has forced Oldsmar officials to reassess and upgrade the security measures at the facility.

“We have addressed the cyber-related deficiencies that were reported in several FBI bulletins,” City Manager Al Braithwaite said during a Feb. 16 City Council meeting. “There will be enhancements that I will recommend to council that we will make as a result of the investigation to ensure optimal cyber-security for all of Oldsmar’s critical assets.”

Mayor Eric Seidel thanked Braithwaite, Assistant City Manager Felicia Donnelly and Public Works staff “for all the hard work and extra effort that has gone in after the…