DoJ charges man for hacking, tempering with public water facility

If found guilty, Wyatt Travnichek will be facing up to 25 years in prison along with up to $500,000 in fine.

On Wednesday, a 22-year-old Wyatt Travnichek from Ellsworth County, Kansas, was indicted by the US Department of Justice (DoJ). According to a DoJ press release, Travnichek was accused of hacking a public water facility’s computer and tampering with the local water supply system.

The accused is charged with one count of gaining unauthorized access to a public water facility computer and one count of jeopardizing county residents’ health and safety by attempting to tamper with the water supply.

The water treatment facility serves more than 1,500 retail customers and around ten wholesale customers in as many as eight Kansas counties.

Hack took Place Two Years Ago.

Federal investigators allege that the crime took place around two years ago. Court documents [PDF] reveal that Travnichek used to work at the Ellsworth County rural water district. He was employed between Jan 2018 and Jan 2019.

It is worth noting that it was a part of his job responsibilities to remotely log into the Post Rock computer system and monitor the plant after hours. Reportedly, the hacking was carried out using a Samsung smartphone.

How did it happen?

According to the DoJ’s press release, Travnicheck hacked into a protected computer of a rural water treatment facility. He remotely accessed the system and shut down some processes that would have affected the facility’s water cleaning and disinfecting procedures.

Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division in Kansas, Lance Ehrig, stated in the announcement that the accused tried to tamper with a public drinking water system. By doing so, the defendant “threatened the safety and health of an entire community.”

If Travnichek is found guilty, he will be facing up to 25 years in prison along with up to $500,000 in fine.

“By illegally tampering with a public drinking water system, the defendant threatened the safety and health of an entire community,” said Mr. Ehrig.

“EPA and its law enforcement partners are committed to upholding the laws designed to protect our drinking water systems from harm or threat of harm. Today’s indictment sends a clear message that individuals who intentionally violate these laws will be vigorously prosecuted.”

No Connection with Florida Incident

Last month, a similar incident occurred in Florida, and it was initially believed that the Kansas incident has some connection with it. However, at the moment, there’s no evidence that both incidents are connected.

In Florida’s incident, the computer system of a water treatment plant in Oldsmar, Tampa, was breached by unidentified hackers. The hackers remotely accessed TeamViewer software on an employee’s computer and tried to increase an additive’s level to a dangerously high proportion.

If the breach weren’t thwarted immediately by the facility’s IT department, thousands of lives would have been in danger.

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