Someone Is Trying to Hack American Nuclear Power Plants

July 7, 2017 - 3 minutes read

The general public has tended to be blissfully unaware of global cybersecurity issues, but two recent high profile cyberattacks (and perhaps the Russian hacking of the 2016 election) may have changed that. Back in mid-May, the WannaCry ransomware attack exposed vulnerabilities in networks running on the out-of-date Microsoft XP operating system. Last week, less than two months after the WannaCry fiasco, another ransomware attack struck computers all over the world. Cybersecurity experts and savvy app developers may have known about the threat of ransomware for a long time, but it’s only now that the public is beginning to understand just how vulnerable our systems are.

Now there’s another major cybersecurity breach that’s garnering attention. According to a New York Times report published yesterday, hackers have managed to worm their way into the networks of companies in charge of operating nuclear energy facilities. The attacks started back in May and primarily targeted industrial control engineers with access to operating systems that keep power facilities running smoothly — at least when they haven’t been hijacked. Some of the hackers (who may be backed by a foreign government) were able to smuggle in malware through fake resumes for open control engineering positions. There is no evidence that the hackers have successfully seized control of any of the infiltrated power stations, but that does not mean we’re out of the woods. Many cybersecurity experts believe that this was a scouting mission to familiarize the hackers with the operating systems for future attacks.

While hysteria is never advisable, it’s understandable for Chicago app developers to be alarmed. When the FBI and Department of Homeland Security declare a cyberattack an urgent amber level threat (that’s the second highest level), it’s natural to sweat a little bit, especially when there are nuclear power plants not so far away. The layman may not wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat over the idea of a cyberattack on infrastructure, but the truth is that it’s one of the most dangerous — and plausible — threats we face. In May, as the attacks were underway, President Donald Trump signed a cybersecurity executive order that directly mentioned the threat of blackouts and other major assaults on infrastructure. Let’s hope that our nation’s top cybersecurity minds are doing everything they can to prevent such a disaster from happening.

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