Compromise of U.S. Water Treatment Facility

On February 5, 2021, unidentified cyber actors obtained unauthorized access to the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system at a U.S. drinking water treatment plant. The unidentified actors used the SCADA system’s software to increase the amount of sodium hydroxide, also known as lye, a caustic chemical, as part of the water treatment process. Water treatment plant personnel immediately noticed the change in dosing amounts and corrected the issue before the SCADA system’s software detected the manipulation and alarmed due to the unauthorized change. As a result, the water treatment process remained unaffected and continued to operate as normal. The cyber actors likely accessed the system by exploiting cyber-security weaknesses, including poor password security, and an outdated operating system. Early information indicates it is possible that a desktop sharing software, such as TeamViewer, may have been used to gain unauthorized access to the system. Onsite response to the incident included Pinellas County Sheriff Office (PCSO), U.S. Secret Service (USSS), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The FBI, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC) have observed cybercriminals targeting and exploiting desktop sharing software and computer networks running operating systems with end of life status to gain unauthorized access to systems. Desktop sharing software, which has multiple legitimate uses—such as enabling telework, remote technical support, and file transfers—can also be exploited through malicious actors’ use of social engineering tactics and other illicit measures. Windows 7 will become more susceptible to exploitation due to lack of security updates and the discovery of new vulnerabilities. Microsoft and other industry professionals strongly recommend upgrading computer systems to an actively supported operating system. Continuing to use any operating system within an enterprise beyond the end of life status may provide cybercriminals access into computer systems.


Written and published by the FBI, CISA, EPA, and ISAC.