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Local water departments stay up to date on safety in light of Florida hacking case

The Florence water department serves 26,000 people.

Posted: Feb 10, 2021 4:13 PM

The FBI is searching for hackers who tried to infiltrate a Florida water department and poision people by changing the chemicals in the water. So WAAY31 wanted to know how safe are our water systems here?

WAAY31 spoke with Mike Doyle. He's the director of Florence's Water and Gas Department. The water department has two intake centers that are surrounded by barbed wire. The facilities have security systems and are manned 24/7.

These facilities aren't connected to the internet either which helps stop potential hacking situations like what happened in Florida.

"We feel comfortable but you can't ever be too comfortable because there is always someone trying to find away around what you've got," said Doyle.

Doyle said people might not realize how many safety training seminars, and classes water departments do to protect their customers from threats.

"Following 9/11 we all in the water industry had to do some real serious security reviews and assessments were still doing that even today. We just went through some reviews and assessments just recently for emergency response plans and how they are reported to the epa," said Doyle.

Not only that but every water deparment falls under federal protection. Doyle said that's why the fbi is involved in the Florida hacking case.

"We're one of the few things in public water in Alabama that's not public information. We're protected there from releasing any information that might apply to the security of our facilities," said Doyle.

In the Florida case a hacker used a software that hadn't been used in 6 months to get into the water system and adjust the levels of sodium hydroxide. Doyle said that kind of hack would be unlikely in Alabama since their facility and others in the state do not use the internet.

"Our form of connection with the outside world and outside the plant to these remote facilities is not internet based which is an easy open door for somebody to get in. We use a different form of communication to communicate with our remote sites and even internal in the plant it's all wired internally so it's not easy to get into," said Doyle.

Doyle said his biggest worry is a physical type of attack but that's the reason these facilities are monitored by police and staff members. He also said to work at a water department you have to pass a lot of tests because the safe drinking water of thousands is in your hands.

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