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Florida water system hack forces US utility companies to review cybersecurity measures

Indiana-based Citizens Energy Group has had no indication their system was attacked.

INDIANAPOLIS — The FBI said someone hacked into a Florida water treatment plant computer system and sent a burst of lye into the system.

It was quickly caught and reversed by an employee, and the public was never in danger.

Managers at that plant are urging managers at water treatment plants across the U.S. to check their systems for potential hacks.

Indiana-based Citizens Energy Group has had no indication their system was attacked. The public utility company manages multiple utilities and has more than 800,000 customers.

"We have multiple safeguards in place to prevent the kind of cyber security [attack] that occurred at the water treatment plant near Tampa, Florida," said Dan Considine, corporate communications manager at Citizens Energy Group.

Credit: WTHR
Citizens Energy Group is located at 2020 N. Meridian St. in Indianapolis.

Considine said while the company cannot share specific information on their security measures, Citizens does have advanced electronic safeguards designed to prevent hackers from gaining access.

"Should one get through, the systems are designed to isolate that attack and minimize any damage that may potentially occur," Considine said.

Workers at Citizens also said they do not allow remote access programs like some other companies do, which is something they've been focused on for a long time and a reason their systems are designed the way they are.

Plant operators are in charge of managing things on site.

"We have Indiana-licensed, certified plant operators at all of our water treatment plants 24 hours a day, 7 days a week," said Dan Moran, director of water quality at Citizens Energy Group. "They're checking all of the electronic equipment to verify that at each point in the process, the water quality targets are being achieved as that water is treated through the treatment plant."

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Moran said as things get more advanced, threats become more common.

"There are entities out there that are trying to get into systems, and we've got a strong system up that we're pretty comfortable with, but it's a process we've got to be diligent about and keep after and keep up with all the time," Moran said.

13News also reached out to the City of Carmel about their water treatment cybersecurity. They released the following statement: 

"Carmel's cybersecurity posture is always evolving to coincide with industry best practices. Our utility systems have been designated as critical infrastructure and there has been a focus to enhance the cybersecurity of those systems."

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