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Nuclear Facilities are in ‘Denial’ to the risk of a ‘Serious Cyber Attack’

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A new report makes the damning claim that nuclear power plants around the world have an “element of denial” about the risks of cyberattacks and are ignorant of their inherent cybersecurity flaws.

Cybersecurity risks concerning nuclear facilities are on an upward scale. The growing risks are due to the increasing reliance on “off-the-shelf” software that helps in cutting costs but are a lot easier to hack, according to a new report by London-based NGO Chatham House.

The report expanded on a number of threats overshadowing nuclear installations and found industrial, cultural and technical challenges facing nuclear facilities on a global scale.

The full report titled “Cyber Security at Civil Nuclear Facilities – Understanding the Risks” is available to download here (PDF).

Caroline Baylon, the report’s author stated:

“Cyber security is still new to many in the nuclear industry.

“They, are really good at safety and, after 9/11, they’ve got really good at physical security. But they have barely grappled with cyber.”

The comprehensive study was conducted by the non-profit over an 18-month period and involved interviews with 30 practitioners engaged in nuclear issues and cybersecurity in various field including industry, government, international organizations and academic institutions. The interviews were extended to experts from “the United States, United Kingdom, France, Japan, Ukraine, Russia, Canada, and Germany.”

Industrial control systems experts & IT experts from major international organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the European Network, and the Information Security Agency (ENISA) were also interviewed.

Recent High-Profile Cyber Attacks on Nuclear Facilities

nuclear power plantThe report also lists several known recent high-profile cyber attacks targeting nuclear facilities. The “most highly sophisticated publicly known cyberattack” was the attack targeting two nuclear facilities in Iran by a complex worm dubbed “Stuxnet,” the likes of which the world hadn’t seen before.

The facilities that were the targets of known cyber attacks between 1992 and 2014 are:

Ignalina nuclear power plant, Lithuania, 1992. – A technician intentionally plugged the industrial control system with a virus, which, he claimed, was to highlight the vulnerabilities inherent in the cybersecurity setup of the power plant. The white-hat was promptly arrested by the police.

Three years later, the Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary talked about the merging of nuclear and cyber terrorism.The hacking of a computer at the Ignalina nuclear power plant in Lithuania could have resulted in a disaster similar to that in Chernobyl.

The David-Besse nuclear power plant, USA, 2003. – The nuclear power plant based in Ohio was infected by the Slammer worm that exploited a vulnerability in Microsoft’s SQL 2000 database server software.

Spreading itself onto other machines, it proceeded to infect the SCADA system. From there, it took control of the safety parameter display system (SPDS), a safety monitoring system containing temperature sensors and radiation detectors and made it unavailable for almost five hours. Luckily the power plant’s reactor was not in operation at the time.

The Browns Ferry nuclear power plant, USA, 2006 – The nuclear plant in Alabama suffered a malfunction of both the reactor recirculation pipes (pipes needed to cool the reactor) and the condensate demineralizer controller (a PLC). Both devices operate with microprocessors that send and receive data while plugged into an Ethernet network.

An excessive amount of traffic led to the malfunction and failure of both devices. It was only after the manual shut down of a plant’s unit that the nuclear power plant avoided a meltdown.

The Hatch nuclear power plant, USA, 2008 – An engineer from a company contracted to manage the nuclear power plant’s tech operations installed an update to a computer on the plant’s business network. The computer was also hooked into the plant’s control system networks with the manual update designed to synchronize data between the two networks.

When the computer was restarted after the update, the synchronization reset the data within the control system to zero, for a brief moment. This reading was enough for the plant’s safety system to deem that the water level required to cool the reactor was down to zero, promptly shutting down the plant for 48 hours, automatically.

Natanz nuclear facility and Bushehr nuclear power plant, Iran, 2010 – The most high-profile incident of them all,  the two Iranian nuclear installations were the targets of a sophisticated worm called Stuxnet. The incident and the worm causing the incident has been elaborated upon further below.

Unnamed nuclear power plant, Russia, 2010 – While the plant hasn’t been identified, its air-gapped internal network was ‘badly infected by ‘Struxnet.’ The incident was revealed by Eugene Kaspersky of Kaspersky Lab.

Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co. commercial network, South Korea, 2014 – In an attack that was attributed to state-sponsored North Korean hackers, a phishing campaign resulted in the breach of blueprints and manuals of two nuclear reactors. So too was personal data belonging to 10,000 company employees.

Hackers warned the operator to shut down 3 of the 23 reactors or face ‘destruction.’ The owner-operator ignored the ultimatum and it turned out to be an empty threat.

The Stuxnet Worm. The Invasive Threat is real.

Recent high-profile cyber attacks, including the deployment of the sophisticated 2010 Stuxnet worm, have raised new concerns about the cyber security vulnerabilities of nuclear facilities.

In making a reference to Stuxnet, the report highlighted the worm that infected computers at Iran’s nuclear facilities after it was uploaded through a flash drive.

The vulnerabilities at control systems in nuclear facilities

The vulnerabilities at control systems in nuclear facilities.

Expanding on the bug, the report read:

“There is a pervading myth that nuclear facilities are ‘air gapped’ – or completely isolated from the public internet -and that this protects them from cyber attack.

Yet, not only can air gaps be breached with nothing more than a flash drive (noting Stuxnet), but the commercial benefits of internet connectivity mean that nuclear facilities may have virtual private networks (VPNs) and other connections installed, sometimes undocumented or forgotten by contractors and other legitimate third-party operators.

The infamous worm was found infecting industrial Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems, that are commonly referred to as the ‘backbone of modern industry’, and in use all around the world.

Gaining system-level access on computers running Windows, the sophisticated worm used false certificates to evade anti-virus scanners by making its files appear like they came from a legitimate source.

After infecting a computer, the Stuxnet worm with its shadow capabilities is designed to remain dormant until the computer connects to a specific SCADA system manufactured by Siemens. The payload is only activated with the connectivity is established. Until then, the worm spreads by replicating itself onto other computers through a shared network and USB flash drives.

Security researchers believe the Stuxnet worm was jointly designed by the US and Israeli governments, specifically tasked to disrupt Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Altogether, the worm is said to have partially destroyed around 1,000 centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran.

Significantly, cybercriminals with lesser capabilities than an advanced nation-state have now copied the worm’s advanced techniques and code to develop their own malware.

Once Stuxnet’s existence became publicly known, hackers around the world took inspiration from the way it functioned and incorporated some of its features into malware to suit their own purposes.

“The same techniques could be adopted to launch attacks on other nuclear facilities.”

The Threat of Terrorism and Physical Destruction

Radical groups such as ISIS with its recruiting via “its sophisticated use of Facebook and websites with their use of social media” and “sufficient financial resources” could potentially employ a “hack for hire” company or a group of hackers to target and carry out a cyberattack against a nuclear installation, the report notes.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Ms Baylon added that “it would be extremely difficult to cause a meltdown at a plant or compromise one but it would be possible for a state actor to do, certainly.”

The point is, that risk is probability times consequence. And even though the probability might be low, the consequence of a cyber incident at a nuclear plant is extremely high.

Inept Security Practices

Some nuclear facilities still operate with default passwords on their equipment. “Hackers can often gain access more easily than managers of nuclear facilities expect [them to],” when default passwords of equipment manufacturers such as Honeywell and Siemens, the likes of ‘1234’, are shared by hackers on web forums.

Such factory-set default passwords are still being used “everywhere” in computer systems that regulate nuclear processes.

The Call for an Organizational Response

The report calls for a coordinated effort among the civil nuclear sector to bring about a cybersecurity regime that “functions intelligently and responsively within its area of concern, remaining absolutely current with the threat picture, concomitant risks and the arsenal of available countermeasures.”

The organized way in which threats are manifested through the internet requires an organizational response by the civil nuclear sector, which includes, by necessity, knowledgeable leadership at the highest levels, combined with dynamic contributions by management and staff and the entire stakeholder group, including members of the wider security and safety communities.

Images from Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4 stars on average, based on 1 rated postsSamburaj is the contributing editor at Hacked and keeps tabs on science, technology and cyber security.




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  1. Asteroid Miner

    October 6, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    You have greatly overestimated the consequence of getting a virus into reactor
    software.

    Reactors have too many ways to shut them down harmlessly.

    Operators have too many ways to force cooling to turn on.

    Even if you manage to cause a meltdown, you can’t harm any people. American containment buildings work. The containment building walls, ceiling and floor of American containment buildings are a minimum of 1 meter [about 39 inches] thick and HEAVILY reinforced with steel. There is so much steel reinforcing rod that when you look at one under construction, you wonder where there will be any room for concrete. The containment building also has a ½ inch thick steel liner. The San Onofre reactor in California has a containment building with 6 foot thick walls,
    ceiling and floor.

    Quit trying to drive people paranoid.

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Crypto-Security Testnet Surpasses Key Milestones

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Security and has been combined with micro-compucomputing are a combination which ascended to greatly relevant, both economically and financially, since the early days of commercial internet technology, the John McAfee associated era of anti-virus software, and fears of ‘millennium-bug’ (‘Y2K’)-induced societal meltdowns.

As a market player, ‘cybersecurity‘ is hailed for its continuedvalue and growth, with recent implementations advancing in tandem with technological development. With ‘blockchain’ having become a key buzzword in recent years, it comes as little surprise that digital security providers have been attempting to identify and provide protection against cryptocurrency related scams.

Examples of these include ‘malware‘ AKA ‘malicious software’. They are often created with the aim of illicitly subvert the processing power of the victim’s device for use towards the mining of cryptocurrencies, or lock and potentially delete highly sensitive data (such as Ransomware’).

Cybersecurity and Blockchain

Crypto attacks can affect almost any person or institution: from private wallets and exchanges, to cryptocurrency operators, and even sometimes unsuspecting users of internet browsers with no relation to blockchain based services.

In an article published at CCN in August 2018, I wrote about the large prolificity and news coverage of cyber-attacks carried out against cryptocurrency organisations: with a majority of them involving the theft of high-value quantities of tokens or sensitive data.

Key points raised in the piece include the identification of wallets and exchanges as high-value targets for potential thieves, as well as a discussion surrounding a study of over 1000 participants in which none of the top exchanges were “lauded for security”.

As cybersecurity has been exposed as a fatal flaw in the unauthorised access / theft access of finances and data, it has also drawn a spotlight on the various methods employed by the companies which suffer these attacks.

Middleware, Wear and Tear

Some teams attempt to protect their data and finances through the creation and implementation of their own proprietary cybersecurity solutions whilst others seek the tender of others,

‘Middleware’ is nothing new and has long been utilised as a means of implementing third-party solutions as a means of shifting professional a legislative liability regarding essential functions of a brand technology.

It’s a creation by third party product / service providers that sits between external and internal code in order to facilitate functions or protections.

Decentralized Security Testnet

REMME is a project harnessing blockchain technology to create a distributed cybersecurity solution for enterprises.

Its now-released testnet has already demonstrated the efficacy of storing hashed Public Key Infrastructure certificates on the blockchain, and with 300 pilot program participants signed up, REMME isn’t short of applicants eager to trial its distributed identity and access management solution.

‘Distributed Identity and Access management’ (IAMd) and ‘Public Key Infrastructure’ requests (PKId) count amongst two of the primary features of the proprietary REMChain testchain network infrastructure. Both claims of which have come from CEO Alex Momot, who additionally praised “The interoperability of the public blockchain and sidechains”.

Additional features include the ‘REMchain block explorer’ – ‘node monitoring’ (connected to five nodes worldwide) – REMME WebAuth demo application.

While a pilot program reportedly attracting over 300 global enterprise applicants, REMME feels confident about the future of their long terms plans: which include full integration existing enterprise systems (ERP, CRM, Accounting software etc.).

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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MyEtherWallet Compromised in Security Breach; Users Urged to Move Tokens

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Popular cryptocurrency service MyEtherWallet (MEW) is urging users to move their tokens after the platform succumbed to its second cyber attack of the year. As the company reported earlier, hackers targeted MEW’s popular VPN service in an attempt to steal cryptocurrency.

Hola VPN Users Compromised

Rather than target MEW directly, hackers took control of the Hola VPN service, which claims nearly 50 million users. For the next five hours, MEW users who had the Hola chrome extension installed and running on their computer were exposed.

MEW took to Twitter to urge users to move their funds immediately.

“Urgent! If you have Hola chrome extension installed and used MEW within the last 24 hrs, please transfer your funds immediately to a brand new account!” the company said. It added the following message shortly thereafter:”We received a report that suggest Hola chrome extension was hacked for approximately 5 hrs and the attack was logging your activity on MEW.”

At the time of writing, MEW’s Twitter feed had no further updates.

MyEtherWallet is used to access cryptocurrency wallets, where users can send and receive tokens from other people.

The company reportedly told TechCrunch that the attack originated from a Russian-based IP address.

“The safety and security of MEW users is our priority. We’d like to remind our users that we do not hold their personal data, including passwords so they can be assured that the hackers would not get their hands on that information if they have not interacted with the Hola chrome extension in the past day,” MEW said, as quoted by TechCrunch.

It’s not yet clear how many users were compromised in the attack or how much, if any, was stolen from their wallets. MEW suffered a similar incident in February after a DNS attack wiped out $365,000 worth of cryptocurrency from users’ accounts.

Cyber Attacks on the Rise

The attack on MEW came less than 24 hours after Hacked reported another major cyber breach involving Bancor, a decentralized cryptocurrency exchange. The security breach compromised roughly $23.5 million worth of digital currency, including Ethereum, NPXS and BNT, Bancor’s native token.

Last month, a pair of South Korean exchanges fell prey to cyber criminals, prompting local regulators to expedite their approval of new cryptocurrency laws.

It has been estimated that a total of $761 million has been stolen from cryptocurrency exchanges in the first half of the year, up from $266 million in all of 2017. That figure is expected to rise to $1.5 billion this year.

CipherTrace, the company behind the estimates, told Reuters last week that stolen cryptocurrencies are mainly used to launder money and aid criminals in concealing their identities.

Disclaimer: The author owns bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. He holds investment positions in the coins, but does not engage in short-term or day-trading.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.6 stars on average, based on 691 rated postsSam Bourgi is Chief Editor to Hacked.com, where he leads content development for one of the world's foremost cryptocurrency resources. Over the past eight years Sam has authored more than 10,000 articles and over 40 whitepapers in the fields of labor market economics, emerging technologies, cryptocurrency and traditional finance. Sam's work has been featured in and cited by some of the world's leading newscasts, including Barron's, CBOE and Forbes. Contact: sam@hacked.com Twitter: @hsbourgi




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Mt. Gox vs. Bithumb: That Was Then, This Is Now

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Bithumb now shares something in common with the Tokyo-based shuttered bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox — both suffered a hack on about the same date, June 19. It’s a club that no exchange wants to belong to and that Bithumb happened on the seven-year anniversary of Mt. Gox’s maiden attack has to be more than an eerie coincidence.

It’s a stark reminder of the risks involved with keeping funds on an unregulated exchange, vulnerabilities that cost South Korea’s Bithumb some $36.6 million in digital cash and Mt. Gox $450 million in hacked bitcoin and its future. The Mt. Gox theft unfolded over a series of hacks that culminated in 2014. Though it’s still early on in the Bithumb hack, it appears the South Korean exchange will recover from the security breach. So what do we know now that we didn’t on June 19, 2011?

Then vs. Now

Former Coinbase official Nick Tomaino, who is also the founder of crypto fund 1 confirmation, reflected on the Mt. Gox hack in what proved to be a prescient tweet given the Bithumb attack that was about to surface.

The thing to note about Mt. Gox is that the Japan-based exchange in 2011 controlled most of the BTC trading volume, approximately three-quarters of it by average estimates — more if you ask Tomaino. Since bitcoin fever caught on in 2017, there are more than 500 cryptocurrency exchanges on which trading volume is shared. Binance boasts the highest trading volume and captures nearly 15% of bitcoin trading. It’s much less than Mt. Gox days but still a little high.

The other thing to note is that the Mt. Gox hack or actually hacks, as there were multiple attacks on the exchange over several years, was a mysterious event that was shrouded in controversy and mistrust of a key executive. Bithumb, on the other hand, confronted the hack seemingly right away on Twitter and has not let any grass grow under its feet in the interim, which is a key difference in the way Mt. Gox was handled.

Also, the bitcoin price didn’t tank in response to the Bithumb hack. It traded lower for a while, but less than 24 hours it was back in the green, which is a reflection of the fact that bitcoin trading is no longer dependent on a single exchange.

Charlie Lee, creator of Litecoin (LTC), the No. 6 cryptocurrency by market cap, was among the first to respond to the Bithumb hack. He tweeted:

Indeed, Bithumb does expect to be able to cover the losses via their reserves.

Crypto Security

It’s still early on in Bithumb’s security breach, and more details are sure to emerge in time. In the meantime, it’s a good idea to use the hack as an opportunity to examine the security of your cryptocurrency investment portfolio. There are several hardware wallet options out there for you to choose from — whether it’s Trezor or Ledger Nano S, to name a couple — and as Charlie Lee advised, “only keep on exchange coins that you are actively trading.”

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Important: Never invest (trade with) money you can't afford to comfortably lose. Always do your own research and due diligence before placing a trade. Read our Terms & Conditions here. Trade recommendations and analysis are written by our analysts which might have different opinions. Read my 6 Golden Steps to Financial Freedom here. Best regards, Jonas Borchgrevink.

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4.6 stars on average, based on 70 rated postsGerelyn has been covering ICOs and the cryptocurrency market since mid-2017. She's also reported on fintech more broadly in addition to asset management, having previously specialized in institutional investing. She owns some BTC and ETH.




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