Recently it was disclosed that a nuclear power plant in South Korea had been hacked. The hackers were able to obtain blueprints, floor maps and other information about the nuclear power plant. The hackers then went to Twitter using an account called “president of anti-nuclear reactor group” and did four postings in which they released some of the information stolen. The hackers threatened to go public with more information unless the power plant was shut down. Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co. (KHNP), the owner of the plant has stated that although they suffered a data breach, the information stolen was not of a critical nature. KHNP further emphasized that the computers that control the power plant’s nuclear reactors are not linked to any external networks and therefore are not and were not in danger of being hacked.
Although this hacking may well, in fact, be benign, it also is a reminder that the American electrical grid and nuclear power plants as well as those in other countries around the world are quite susceptible to hacking that could have a devastating effect. Both private industry and the United States government have been slow to take effective steps to make the power grid and nuclear power plants less vulnerable to a cyberattack. In fact, it recently came to light that much of the American power grid and nuclear power plants have been hacked since 2011 by Russian hackers who implanted malware known as BlackEnergy and Sandworm in the computers of these industries.
The hacking into American energy plants including nuclear power plants by Russian hackers has been interpreted by some as a return to the cold war policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) by which the Russians and Americans would be deterred from attacking each other because of the knowledge that the other major power would be able to respond in an equally devastating manner. Whether this is an accurate assessment of today’s situation, it is of little solace when considering the ability of terrorist groups or even ransom seeking criminals who might have the means to commit cybercrimes. Hopefully, the hacking of the South Korean nuclear power plant will serve as a wakeup call to governments and private industry around the world to take the steps necessary to increase the security of their important infrastructure.