Maroochy Shire Sewage Spill

Event Year: 2000 Reliability: Confirmed
Country: Australia
Industry Type: Water/Waste Water

In November 2001, 49-year-old Vitek Boden was sentenced to two years in prison for using stolen wireless radio, SCADA controller and control software to release up to one million litres of sewage into the river and coastal waters of Maroochydore in Queensland, Australia. Boden, who had been a consultant on the water project, conducted the attacks in early 2000 after he was refused a full-time job with the Maroochy Shire government.

The Crown case on the computer hacking offences was that between 9 February 2000 and 23 April 2000 Vitek accessed computers controlling the Maroochy Shire Council’s sewerage system, altering electronic data in respect of particular sewerage pumping stations and causing malfunctions in their operations. The evidence in the case revealed that the Council’s sewerage system had about 150 stations pumping sewerage to treatment plants. Each pumping station had installed a Hunter Watertech PDS Compact 500 computer (RTU) capable of receiving instructions from a central control centre, transmitting alarm signals and other data to the central computer and providing messages to stop and start the pumps at the pumping station. Communications between pumping stations and between a pumping station and the central computer were by means of a private two-way radio system. 

Vitek, an engineer, had been employed by Hunter Watertech as its site supervisor on the SCADA installation project for about two years until resigning December 3, 1999. At about the time of his resignation he approached the Council seeking employment. He was told to enquire again at a later date. He made another approach to the Council for employment in January 2000 and was told that he would not be employed. The sewerage system then experienced a spate of faults. Pumps were not running when they should have been, alarms were not reporting to the central computer and there was a loss of communication between the central computer and various pumping stations.

On 16 March 2000, when malfunction occurred in the system, Mr. Yager (a Hunter Watertech investigating the problems) communicated over the network with a bogus pump station 14 which was sending messages to corrupt the system. He was temporarily successful in altering his programm to exclude the bogus messages but then had his computer shut out of the network for a short period. The intruder was now using PDS identification number 1 to send messages.

Further problems then occurred as a result of a person gaining computer access to the system and altering data so that whatever function should have occurred at affected pumping stations did not occur or occurred in a different way. The central computer (SCADA master) was unable to exercise proper control and, at great inconvenience and expense, technicians had to be mobilised throughout the system to correct faults at affected pumping stations. On the occasion the subject of count 45, a pumping station overflowed causing raw sewerage to escape.

On 23 April 2000 an intruder, by means of electronic messages, disabled alarms at four pumping stations using the identification of pumping station 4. The intrusions began just after 7:30 pm and concluded just after 9:00 pm.

By this time the appellant had fallen under suspicion and was under surveillance. A vehicle driven by him was located by police officers and when the vehicle was pulled over and searched, a PDS Compact 500 computer, later identified in evidence as the property of Hunter Watertech, was found in it as was a laptop computer.


Along with 27 counts of using a restricted computer to cause detriment or damage, Vitek was also convicted of 1 count of wilfully and unlawfully causing serious environmental harm.  The sewerage spill was significant. It polluted over 500 metres of open drain in a residential area and flowed into a tidal canal. Cleaning up the spill and its effects took days and required the deployment of considerable resources. “Marine life died, the creek water turned black and the stench was unbearable for residents,” said Janelle Bryant, investigations manager for the Australian Environmental Protection Agency.