Report: Wolf Creek nuclear plant targeted by hackers

Published: Jul. 6, 2017 at 7:03 PM CDT
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A nuclear plant in Kansas was among those targeted by hackers.

Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation near Burlington was named in a report issued last week by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The New York Times obtained a copy of the report, which they say was confirmed by security experts who were responding the attacks.

A spokesperson for Wolf Creek told 13 NEWS there has been "absolutely no operational impact" on the facility.

According to the New York Times, the hackers have been working since May to penetrate the computer networks of companies that operation nuclear and other energy facilities, along with manufacturing plants. The New York Times report says targets were both in the U.S. and in other countries.

While the origin of the attack is not known, two people familiar with the investigation told the New York Times that the hackers' techniques mimic a Russian group known as "Energetic Bear," which has been tied to attacks on energy entities since 2012.

Saturday that the U.S. government had warned industrial firms about a hacking campaign targeting the nuclear and energy sectors, but the report provided to the firms did not name any specific victims.

"Historically, cyber actors have strategically targeted the energy sector with various goals ranging from cyber espionage to the ability to disrupt energy systems in the event of a hostile conflict," Reuters quoted the report as stating.

According to the New York Times report, the hackers sent emails containing fake resumes to senior industrial control engineers. If the recipient clicked on the document, the attackers could steal their credentials to access other machines on a network.

The federal report did not state whether the hackers were trying to steal secrets or cause destruction, or how often they successful, the New York Times reported.

Jenny Hageman, Wolf Creek Communications Manager, told 13 NEWS in an email that they could not comment on security issues. However, she confirmed the facility continues to operate safely.

"The reason that is true is because the operational computer systems are completely separate from the corporate network," Hageman wrote. "The safety and control systems for the nuclear reactor and other vital plant components are not connected to business networks or the internet."

A spokesperson for Westar Energy, which co-owns Wolf Creek with KCP&L and KEPCo, also declined to comment on specifics of the situation, but said Westar has a team which works to identify and respond to cyber incidents.

"We have multiple layers of security to ensure our customers' information and the power grid are safe," Gina Penzig told 13 NEWS in a statement. "We work closely with other utilities and state and federal authorities to share information that can help all of us mitigate risks."

According to the New York Times, the federal report concluded the hackers appeared to be mapping computer networks for future attacks, but investigators had been unable to gain more detail on what they were after.

John Keeley, spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, told the New York Times that nuclear facilities are required to report cyberattacks which related to "safety, security and operations," and none had reported any such issues.