Hackers targeting nuclear power plant operators in US

Report: Wolf Creek nuclear plant targeted by hackers

Hackers have targeted the computer networks of companies that run nuclear power plants and other energy facilities in the USA, according to reports in the New York Times and Bloomberg News.

The joint report by the DHS and the Federal Bureau of Investigation did not identify the attackers, though it described the hacks as "an advanced persistent threat", a term that US officials typically but not always use to describe attacks by culprits.

Although hackers have successfully penetrated computers belonging to employees at companies controlling nuclear facilities, they have not been successful in making the jump from a single computer to a facility's operating or security systems. Sources tell Bloomberg that the hackers appear to be searching for ways to disrupt America's electrical grid-and the chief suspect is Russian Federation, where hackers are believed to have taken down part of Ukraine's power system.

The information for the New York Times article was collected from a report put together by private cyber-security researchers. When the recipient clicks on the material, the hackers either gain access to other computers in the network or they are able to re-direct all network traffic to go through their - the hacker's - computers before it is channeled to the Internet.

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The NYT also stated that an "advanced persistent threat" actor was responsible. Over the past few years, cybercriminals have developed customised malware variants such as Industroyer and Irongate, which specifically target nuclear control systems. The Wolf Creek nuclear power plant is near Burlington, about an hour south of Topeka. "Once you're into the control systems - and you can get into the control systems by hacking into the plant's regular computer network - then the basic security mechanisms you'd expect are simply not there".

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.

USA officials say they are taking the breach seriously, as Russian Federation is also suspected to be behind the massive cyberattack last month that crippled Ukraine. This would include email messages from the hackers to individuals with access to critical facility systems, and the messages would contain fake resumes or other documents that contained malicious code to retrieve user login credentials and spread throughout the network.

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