Former employee charged for remote computer attack on California water treatment plant

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remote access computer
A northern California man allegedly uninstalled software that was the main hub of the facility’s computer network for water pressure, filtration, and chemical levels. Photo Credit: aapsky, stock.adobe.com

A former water plant contractor for instrumentation and control technology has been charged with intentionally causing damage to a protected computer. The new indictment alleges that he remotely transmitted a command to uninstall critical operations software at a California water treatment facility more than a year after he worked there.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of California, Rambler Gallo, 53, had been contracted for computer work at the water facility for four years beginning in 2016 in the Town of Discovery Bay. 

Following his resignation at the unidentified company contracted by the Discovery Bay water facility, which provides water and wastewater treatment for the summer resort community’s 15,000 residents, Gallo allegedly uninstalled software that was the main hub of the facility’s computer network for water pressure, filtration and chemical levels.

Gallo then “turned off the servers running those systems, causing a threat to public health and safety,” announced U.S. Attorney Ismail Ramsey and Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge, Robert Tripp.

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The remote access case is also being investigated by the F.B.I.

It is unknown at this time whether Gallo, a northern California resident, had a particular motive, or whether any damage or harm was caused by the remote access computer system breach.

The indictment alleges that during his contract at the Discovery Bay facility, Gallo installed software on his own personal computer and on his contracted employer’s private internal network, allowing him to gain remote access to the water facility’s computer network 13 months after his contract ended.

Discovery Bay’s water and wastewater facilities are operated and maintained by Veolia Water under a multi-year contract, but the defendant’s employer remains unknown at this time, apart from the fact that the indictment notes it is a “private Massachusetts-based company.”

Gallo has been indicted by a federal grand jury. The indictment charges Gallo with one count of transmitting a program, information, code, and command to cause damage to a protected computer, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1030(a)(5)(A) and (c)(4)(B)(i). If convicted, he faces a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

In 2021, a hacker remotely accessed a Florida water plant’s control systems and dangerously raised sodium hydroxide levels.

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