Bay area water treatment computer system accessed by hacker

(TNS) – A hacker gained access to the computer system of a Bay Area water treatment plant in January and removed the programs the plant was using to treat drinking water, a senior intelligence official.

NBC News first reported Thursday that the unidentified hacker used the username and password of a former plant employee to enter the unidentified water treatment facility in the Bay Area on January 15.

Michael Sena, executive director of the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, confirmed NBC’s report of the security breach, but declined to say where it occurred or who committed it.

Sena also declined to say whether the hacker would face criminal charges.

The NBC report said the hacker “attempted to poison” the Bay Area water supply, a claim disputed by Sena.

“No one has tried to poison our water,” he said. “This is not correct”

Tampering with the computer programs used to treat drinking water is unlikely to result in widespread poisoning, Sena said.

“It takes a lot to influence a water supply chain,” he said. “For a big impact there has to be a big change in the chemicals in the system. The amount of chemicals it would take to cause harm to people … the numbers are astronomical.”

The January 15 hack posed “no specific threat to public safety,” he added.

News of the breach comes as officials continue to investigate the May’s Colonial Pipeline cyberattack, which closed gas stations from Texas to New Jersey and raised new concerns about the vulnerability of U.S. infrastructure.

The San Francisco-based Northern California Regional Intelligence Center works with the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to track suspicious activity, criminal activity, and threats to the region’s infrastructure.

© 2021 the Chronicle of San Francisco. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Gordon K. Morehouse