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Government Security

Nuclear Regulator Hacked 3 Times In 3 Years 66

Posted by timothy
from the once-a-year-to-keep-in-practice dept.
mdsolar (1045926) writes with this disconcerting story from CNet about security breaches at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, revealed in a new report to have been compromised three times in the last three years: The body that governs America's nuclear power providers said in an internal investigation that two of the hacks are suspected to have come from unnamed foreign countries, the news site Nextgov reported based on a Freedom of Information Act request. The source of the third hack could not be identified because the logs of the incident had been destroyed, the report said. Hackers, often sponsored by foreign governments, have targeted the US more frequently in recent years. A report (PDF) on attacks against government computers noted that there was a 35 percent increase between 2010 and 2013.

Intruders used common hacking techniques to get at the NRC's computers. One attack linked to a foreign country or individual involved phishing emails that coerced NRC employees into submitting their login credentials. The second one linked to a foreign government or individual used spearphishing, or emails targeted at specific NRC employees, to convince them to click a link that led to a malware site hosted on Microsoft's cloud storage site SkyDrive, now called OneDrive. The third attack involved breaking into the personal account of a NRC employee. After sending a malicious PDF attachment to 16 other NRC employees, one person was infected with malware.
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Nuclear Regulator Hacked 3 Times In 3 Years

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  • Good Job NRC (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mr D from 63 (3395377) on Tuesday August 19, 2014 @09:30AM (#47702685)
    So, three times in three years, hackers get by the first line of defense (humans) and access some servers. They are identified and stopped each time. Not too bad considering the number of nutjobs out there that target them. It might actually be considered impressive. The NRC hires a lot of contractors, so the human element will always be a challenge, just like any other organization of that nature.

    The funny thing is, most NRC information is publicly available through their on-line document library. There is a very small amount of redacted intellectual property from various vendors that one might get a hold of, but any of those items are not really much different than the public information or useful to competitors. Doubts are any of these hackers would be able to do anything with it, as competitors generally already know what each other really are doing.

    Safeguards & security information could theoretically be of value to a terrorist, but is not kept on any of these common servers. It is kept in isolated, stand-alone file rooms with isolated individual computers & file cabinets and controlled access.

    I don't see really why this is any kind of news.
    • Still, their company email should probably be on an intranet.
      • Are you saying their email should be completely isolated from the public internet? How are they supposed to... use email?

        Unless you think each person should have two email addresses from two domains.

        • by AK Marc (707885)
          Or perhaps he was saying that they should be through a email gateway such that the users reading emails can't get to the Internet. Any phishing attempt would then fail. Unless they requested you email back your login.
    • So wait, why would the NRC even be a target then, unless the hackers were dumb enough to believe that the NRC would store sensitive information on a public-facing server?

    • by TheCarp (96830)

      Well, I agree there is probably little of value there, however, I think you are missing what documents of value they do have. Specifically, information about their inspection program and any investigations they may be doing. That is data that, at least theoretically, has value to the subjects of any investigation or inspection.

      Whether it is of real value or whether they would actually pay for it (or hire someone to get it) is another question entirely. I would have no problem believing that a few times a ye

    • Re:Good Job NRC (Score:4, Interesting)

      by jellomizer (103300) on Tuesday August 19, 2014 @09:55AM (#47702855)

      But it is Nuclear! N U C L E A R ! ! ! This words means scary stuff will happen if ever used by Bad Bad Men!

      Now the people who broke in may get a lot of good information just like if they broke into any other federal commission. However I would really hope the actual dangerous stuff isn't on the same network that allows any sort of internet access.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Thank you.

      There's virtually nothing to be gained by illegitimately obtaining information from the NRC -- almost everything they produce is in the public domain. This is just FUD designed to scare anyone easily excited by the combination of the words "hacked" and "nuclear" in the same article.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Why do we get a gloom and doom post on the front page from this guy every day? Besides, this is a non-story:

    "The few attempts documented in the OIG (Office of the Inspector General) cyber crimes unit report as gaining some access to NRC networks were detected and appropriate measures were taken," he said.

    • Why do we get a gloom and doom post on the front page from this guy every day? Besides, this is a non-story:

      He doesn't care about the content, the agenda is to submit items in quantity and hope many just read the headlines. Unfortunately, some of those that accept articles here are willing to oblige that behavior.

  • Skydrive? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jratcliffe (208809) on Tuesday August 19, 2014 @09:39AM (#47702749)

    "to convince them to click a link that led to a malware site hosted on Microsoft's cloud storage site SkyDrive, now called OneDrive"

    Why on earth would the NRC (or any company or government entity, for that matter) not block access to all cloud storage providers, except those which are explicitly authorized?

    • they should make it a punishable offense to fall for obvious malicious emails. this would make people pay attention. either a midemeanor of a civil penalty.
      • by geekoid (135745)

        Yes, punish the victim, genius.

        • we're all victims when a couple tards let some obvious hackers in the front door. Imagine we're a walled city with nothing but zombies outside. Those at the gates have a responsibility not to let zombies in.
      • It's much easier to blame the victim than provide a technical solution?

        Anyone heard of, "AI?"

        How hard is it to emulate a user and take the phishing/spear phishing bait to conclusion inside a sandbox; make a call to the, "Not by the hair on my chinny chin chin," routine when the predicted results are deemed harmful?

        I have to think of everything.

        • who is the victim? everybody on the network could fall victim due to a malicious hacker and his accomplice, the witless cubicle drone who takes the bait.
    • by geekmux (1040042)

      "to convince them to click a link that led to a malware site hosted on Microsoft's cloud storage site SkyDrive, now called OneDrive"

      Why on earth would the NRC (or any company or government entity, for that matter) not block access to all cloud storage providers, except those which are explicitly authorized?

      Blocking access to "all cloud storage providers" will likely cripple actual functionality the business is looking for now or in the future. On top of that, I don't know of many who do this. Hell, the CIA has their own cloud on AWS, so it's a bit funny to think the government would be asking their customers/partners/vendors to stay away.

      And with the way data is shifting to cloud hosting solutions, at some point in the near future, it will become impossible to block the "cloud", as it will become part of th

    • Why on earth would the NRC (or any company or government entity, for that matter) not block access to all cloud storage providers, except those which are explicitly authorized?

      My first job after college was working for a branch of the Department of Defense as a civilian. I was a programmer at first and then a Unix system admin. You may not know how tight Microsoft is with Uncle Sam so it could be that SkyDrive was or even still is deliberately allowed. I could certainly see Microsoft telling some big shot manager "This can only be a good thing you for you" and they signed off on it. My experience was that security was highly variable and depended on how serious the people res

    • You would think such stuff would be blocked but there are those in government (our current CIO one of them) who think, "The Cloud! The Cloud! It's wonderful!" without any concept of how insecure the Cloud really is.

      People at the top read magazines and are told how wonderful such things are without taking a moment to think things through.

      This applies to the private sector as well except you don't normally hear about their missteps.

    • by quetwo (1203948)

      Because if you block access to SkyDrive, you end up blocking access to being able to run the newest version of Microsoft Office. The servers that it uses to get (stream) content are the same ones that SkyDrive uses.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 19, 2014 @09:39AM (#47702753)

    Hapless government employees fall susceptible to phishing, but OMG NUCLEAR REGULATORS!!!111!!!1eleventyone!!1!

    Why do I have a feeling that if this happened to any other Federal department, we'd never hear about it?

  • by binarylarry (1338699) on Tuesday August 19, 2014 @09:43AM (#47702775)

    Nuclear Information Security Inspector could be heard in the background saying "Doh!"

  • by DutchUncle (826473) on Tuesday August 19, 2014 @10:03AM (#47702913)
    "phishing emails that coerced NRC employees" . . . Email doesn't FORCE a person to do something, or COMPEL obedience. Convince, mislead, trick, confuse someone into doing something, sure. My point is, don't blame the emails - assume that something labeled "nuclear" is a tempting target - blame people ignorant enough (or blame training so insufficient) as to fall for such a ruse, and security lax enough to let the action occur.
  • Some details (Score:4, Informative)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Tuesday August 19, 2014 @10:31AM (#47703111)

    I thought I'd provide some anecdotal evidence for the sake of argument. I've worked at 3 major telephone companies/ISPs over the years and have been involved in installing phone and data lines at multiple power companies across the country including 1 reactor. In every case the power company had a standing police that basically boiled down to "No data enters the facility" It used to be a rule that "no copper entered the facility" but that changed with the advent of fiberoptics. I don't know if this is a law, or just a common security practice, but in the dozens of facilities I've worked with they were all air-gaped. Again, this is anecdotal, I don't know if this is done everywhere, but I certainly found it reassuring when I saw it.

    On the other hand, I did work with a local municipality once that opened and closed the local damn with a single copper pair running between the control house and the damn. When the damn overflowed and flooded that copper pair rendering it inoperable, they were furious with us because we wouldn't "fix it" I had to explain to a local community leader that our field techs are not trained to use scubba gear and had we known the safety of the entire community was riding on a single $12/month copper pair we'd have likely suggested an alternative solution.

  • by Squidlips (1206004) on Tuesday August 19, 2014 @11:19AM (#47703569)
    So why are they unnamed? Makes me think it was China...
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Most American Blackhats use foreign country's connections to infiltrate American systems.

    This is why every single fucking time they appear to come from "unnamed foreign countries" . Because wouldn't you want to appear like you are coming from China when in actuality you are sitting at a desk in new york city when owning these poor bastards?

    I bet they paid a lot of money to "security professionals" to fix this though. lolololololol

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