Saturday, 22 July, 2017

Wolf Creek nuclear plant targeted by hackers

A nuclear plant A nuclear plant
Sammy Stanley | 08 July, 2017, 00:14

Hackers have reportedly been targeting computer networks of companies that operate nuclear power plants, manufacturing facilities, as well as other energy firms across the United States and other countries.

There is no indication that hackers were able to jump from their victims' computers into the control systems of the facilities, nor is it clear how many facilities were breached.

Three individuals with knowledge of the government's response said Russian Federation is its main suspect, Bloomberg reported. The attacks resemble those making by Russian hacking group Energetic Bear, which has been going after energy companies since 2012, reports The New York Times.

While the joint DHS-FBI report carries an "amber" threat warning, the industry appears to be downplaying the seriousness of the hackers' activities.

Although the warning did not indicate who was sponsoring the hackers, the language used to describe the them was consistent with what's typically used to denote hackers that've been backed by governments. However, the attackers allegedly attempted to map out targets' networks for future intrusions. It did say an "advanced persistent threat" actor was responsible, which suggests US officials believe the hackers are backed by a foreign government.

"The reason that is true is because the operational computer systems are completely separate from the corporate network", Hageman wrote. The one nuclear power business revealed in the report was the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corp., which operates Wolf Creek 1, a Westinghouse Four-loop pressurized water reactor located near Burlington, Kan.

Had the plant been successfully hacked, the attack would have to be reported to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission which would have to inform the public, said John Keeley with the Nuclear Energy Institute. A possible use for those backdoors could be to try to gain access to plant operational controls and interrupt critical systems.

They sent highly targeted emails to senior engineers at operating firms behind the nuclear plants, mimicking job applications but laced with malicious code, the newspaper said.

Still, even if hackers have to do much more to execute a full-scale power grid attack, it's scary to know that it could all start from something as innocuous as a MS Word document.

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