US nuclear regulator hit by two foreign cyberattacks in three years

Nuclear reactor cooling towers

It's no secret that the White House is eager to protect the energy grid against cyberattacks, but it's now clear that the government is speaking from bitter, first-hand experience. Nextgov has confirmed that foreign hacker groups broke into the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's systems twice within the past three years, compromising PCs and accounts by tricking users into installing malware. A third, individually-launched attack also happened during the same time frame. While investigators couldn't determine the origins due to internet providers deleting their logs, the targets suggest that the attacks were government-backed -- the NRC knows the contents and health of reactors across the US. That logically draws suspicion toward China or Russia, although these could have simply been black market operators hoping to sell to the highest bidder.

The extent of the damage isn't listed, and it's not known if the NRC took any steps to bolster security and educate workers in the aftermath. However, the agency's Inspector General is planning another probe into possible attacks this year, and stresses that it's well aware of the dangers. A strong firewall and staff reporting stops the "vast majority" of would-be data thieves, the Inspector's office says. While that's good to hear, it only takes one intrusion to steal a lot of sensitive info -- let's hope that security is tighter these days.

[Image credit: Andy Rudorfer, Flickr]