Hacker tried to poison water near Tampa ahead of Super Bowl – National & International News – TUE 9Feb2021

Just two days before the Super Bowl in Tampa, hackers attempted to remotely poison the water supply of a small nearby city.

Hacker tried to poison water near Tampa. Impeachment begins today. India: 35 trapped in tunnel. China, US, UAE Mars probes in new “space race”


Hacker tries to poison drinking water in Florida city

Last Friday, a hacker breached the computerized control system at a water treatment plant and attempted to taint the water with lye. The plant serves Oldsmar, FL, a city of 15,000 northwest of Tampa. Lye is a caustic substance commonly found in cleaning products. Treatment centers use lye to to treat water acidity. An excess of the chemical can cause burns, irritation and other complications.

The hacker used a remote access program shared by plant workers. They briefly succeeded in increasing the amount of lye entering the water by a factor of one hundred (from 100 parts per million to 11,100 parts per million). Fortunately, an alert supervisor saw a mouse cursor, under the hacker’s control, moving across the screen changing settings. The supervisor was then able to immediately stop the tampering.

The attack happened days before the nearby city of Tampa was to host the Super Bowl on Sunday. Water treatment supervisors in surrounding areas immediately disabled their remote access programs. Authorities have since taken other precautions to prevent further tampering.

Vulnerable systems

Security experts say municipal water systems and other utilities and infrastructure are particularly vulnerable to cyber attacks.

Robert M. Lee of Dragos Security warns that “as industries become more digitally-connected, we will continue to see more states and criminals target these sites for the impact they have on society”.

Analyst Daniel Kapellmann Zafra of cybersecurity firm FireEye says the Oldsmar incident “highlights the need to strengthen the cybersecurity capabilities across the water and wastewater industry”.

Investigators said it wasn’t immediately clear whether the attack was foreign or domestic. In recent years, both Russian and Iranian hackers have been caught tampering with vital industrial and infrastructure systems in the US.

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Debate on constitutionality of impeachment expected on opening day

Senate party leaders Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer have agreed to a rapid timetable for the second impeachment of Donald Trump. Under this timeline, the trial could wrap up as early as next week, if both sides agree not to call witnesses.

Proceedings will begin today, and debate is expected over constitutionality. Two weeks ago, a vote to halt proceedings on the basis that Trump had already left office narrowly lost in the Senate. There is some disagreement on this point among constitutional scholars. According to Frank Bowman III, a University of Missouri law professor, “the overwhelming number of constitutional scholars say the trial is constitutional,” while “a tiny number of outliers disagree”.

Democrats will make an emotional appeal in their case against Trump. Rather than bogging down the prosecution with abstract legal analysis, the nine House impeachment managers plan to focus on the “gripping and spellbinding story” of how Trump incited the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot. This approach will differ from the previous impeachment, which featured technical legal arguments and testimony from a host of international and US diplomatic witnesses.

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India: Rescuers attempt to reach 35 people trapped in tunnel

On Sunday, part of a glacier fell into a river in the Himalayan province of Uttarakhand. The resulting catastrophic swell destroyed a hydroelectric dam and several bridges and homes. Debris also blocked two tunnels connected to a dam which is still under construction. Rescuers freed 12 people from the smaller of the two tunnels yesterday. At least 35 others are believed to be trapped in the larger tunnel. Their status remains unknown. Rescuers and locals have been trying to unblock the tunnel using shovels and mechanical diggers.

At least 28 people died in the disaster and about 150 are still missing. The causes of the glacial slip are unknown, but some blame construction on the dam itself.

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Mars missions: UAE, China and US probes to reach Red Planet his month

Three unmanned probes will reach Mars this month after departing Earth within days of one another in 2020. The probes –  from NASA, the United Arab Emirates, and China – will collect atmospheric and environmental readings. Their secondary aim is to explore the possibility of any life forms having once existed on the planet.

The UAE’s probe Al Amal (Arabic for “Hope”) will remain in orbit for 687 days (a Martian year) to collect weather data. China’s probe has both a surface rover and orbiter. The orbiter will collect data in the atmosphere, also for 687 days. The rover will separate and land on the Martian surface later in May. The Chinese rover will look for pockets of water, which may contain signs of life.

NASA’s Perseverance rover is the most advanced probe ever dispatched to another planet. It will collect rock and soil samples from the Martian surface for about two Earth years. In a space first, the Perseverance mission aims to return these samples to Earth for detailed analysis.

A new space race

Aside from the expected scientific gains, the three countries are also making geopolitical statements. Christopher Impey of the University of calls this “a new space race”. He says that, “the China-US rivalry is a successor to the Soviet-US rivalry from the early space age”. Impey also points to competing NASA and Chinese ambitions for moon bases in the near future, as well as eventual manned Martian missions. He adds that the Chinese “are spending heavily, and success in space is directly tied to national pride and the projection of Chinese power”.

Todd Harrison of the Aerospace Security Project says the US has so far retained “a substantial lead in space exploration and space technology”. But Harrison adds that, “China and other nations are working diligently to catch up”.

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