News Feature | September 6, 2017

Florida Water Utility Hacked For Customer Account Data

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome

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The U.S. Secret Service is investigating how a hacker managed to steal customer information from a water utility in Margate, FL.

Margate police said account information for nearly 70 ratepayers in Margate and Coconut Creek were compromised, the Sun-Sentinel reported. The customers had gone online to pay with debit or credit cards.

“There was no pattern to how the thief spent the money, other than some $100 charges for Apple's iTunes store, police said. Fraudulent charges within the past two months ranged from $50 to $200, mostly for online purchases,” the report said.

The Margate water utility serves nearly 17,000 customers, the report said.

Police officials and the U.S. Secret Service are investigating. The Secret Service investigates financial criminal activity, the report said.

The nearby city of Deerfield assisted with the investigation. “The city of Deerfield said it uses the same software as Margate and had helped the Secret Service obtain some details about a virus,” the report said.

“Deerfield city staff disabled the virus last month before any harm resulted, a city spokeswoman said. In Deerfield, there haven’t been any reports of suspicious activity on customers’ credit cards,” the report said.

Deerfield computer specialist Eddie Martinez was contact by the Secret Service to the city’s response.

“I explained how our team detected the virus and how we handled it,” Martinez said, per the report. “The official with the Secret Service told me that we were the first municipality to detect this and destroy it on our own.”

Questions remain about what made the water utility vulnerable to hacking.

“In Margate, authorities still don’t know if it was a website that was hacked, or some other part of the payment process, [a police official] said. As a precaution, the city installed upgraded security features on its website that were completed this week, [the official] said,” according to the report.

Federal officials are working to urge water utilities to pay more attention to the rising threat of cyberattacks.

“This will become a greater issue in the future, as more water systems try to cut costs by moving toward full automation,” BNA Bloomberg reported, citing federal aides.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology makes tools available to utilities to help assess cybersecurity risks.

To read more about preventing cyber attacks visit Water Online’s Resiliency Solutions Center.

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