An internal report at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has revealed that the agency has been hacked three times in the last three years, but what was stolen remains unknown, Government Executive reports.
NRC officials are completely in the dark about the identity of the individuals who gained unauthorized access to sensitive information. The inspector general Cyber Crime Unit has some knowledge of the geographical origin of the attackers, although they have declined to release the name of the country.
Additionally, hackers destroyed any internet service provider records of the incident, making it much harder to trace their activities and giving further evidence of their sophisticated and meticulous methods.
However, it is still unclear whether the foreigners have any ties to a specific government, with former FBI cyber official Shawn Henry arguing that the attack may even be incidental and not related to the NRC at all, since automated malware might “not specifically [target] NRC, but rather any computer that might inadvertently deploy the malware.”
In one of the attacks, a dozen NRC personnel clicked on a link thought to be an internal resource, but instead, were taken to a spreadsheet controlled by a foreign country. It is unknown what information NRC personnel entered in the form. Another case saw the email account of a particular NRC employee compromised, which was then used to gain access via infection to another internal email account.
Attacks like these are not to be taken lightly, since a 2000 report shows that the NRC holds information which would be very valuable to foreign governments — detailed information on nuclear reactors and data regarding which plants have weapons-grade materials. Currently, however, there is no mandate for agencies to disclose breaches unless personal data has been uncovered.
From 2010 to November 2013, the Inspector General discovered up to 17 attempted or successful NRC breaches.
“The NRC’s computer security office detects and thwarts the vast majority of such attempts, through a strong firewall and reporting by NRC employees,” NRC Commission spokesman David McIntyre said. “The few attempts documented in the OIG cyber crimes unit report as gaining some access to NRC networks were detected and appropriate measures were taken.”
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