What safety precautions are in place to protect Tampa Bay water supply systems?

8 On Your Side

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A hacker was recently able to remotely access a water treatment system, potentially endangering nearly 15,000 people in the Tampa Bay area. 8 On Your Side investigates is looking into the threat and whether it could happen again.

There are always multiple safety and monitoring protocols in place. But still, in the Oldsmar water plant case, the remote access allowed a criminal or criminals to try to poison the water.

The question now: What does your water supply company allow?

The hacked water treatment plant opened in January of 2013. Its operating system is eight years old. The City of Oldsmar has temporarily disabled remote access as federal officials investigate.

The U.S. Secret Service has a Cyber Fraud Task Force permanently stationed in Tampa. But they do not comment on ongoing investigations. The FBI would only confirm agents in Tampa are working to find the person or persons responsible.

Cybersecurity experts warn that the pandemic is increasing exposure because more companies are allowing their systems to be remotely accessed.

At a news conference in Sarasota on Wednesday, 8 On Your Side’s Allyson Henning asked Gov. Ron DeSantis about the risk.

“Are you taking any specific action as a result of what we saw in Oldsmar with the water plant intrusion? And how confident should we as Floridians be that our critical infrastructure is secure here?” asked Henning.

“So, it’s something that we’re looking at. I don’t have anything to announce now but if I do, we will be sure to let you know,” Gov. DeSantis answered.

8 On Your Side wanted to know which Tampa Bay area water suppliers currently allow remote access.

We found out Tampa Bay Water, Hillsborough County Public Utilities and the City of St. Petersburg do not.

Meanwhile, Pasco does use remote access.

“Pasco County does use remote access technology. However, we only use platforms that utilize internal authentication, authorization and accounting to monitor access,” Pasco County Public Information Officer Tambrey Laine said. “Pasco County only allows technologies that require internal approval in real-time and are thoroughly vetted by the security team.”

The City of Clearwater refuses to discuss safety and security measures.

“We will not be discussing the safety and security measures around our water supply at this time,” said spokesman Jason Beisel.

Cybersecurity experts believe smaller water suppliers are most at risk.

If you have a tip, email investigator Mahsa Saeidi at MSaeidi@WFLA.com

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