NEW YORK CITY – Just when you thought a new year and a new tough talking president meant we could relax our guard, the Associate Press reports on a not-so-new threat – hackers using nuclear plants as weapons of mass destruction.
The theory is simple, really. Israel and America used a computer worm known as Stuxnet to destroy Iranian nuclear centrifuges. It was the first time a cyber weapon destroyed physical property. The Iranians got a hold of Stuxnet, thanks to the Russians, and destroyed 30,000 Saudi Arabian computers. Iran then attacked American banks, shutting down the system for a day.
This is the same kind of worm that hackers could use to destroy key safeguards at an American nuclear plant.
Other bad actors have shut down utilities in at least three nations. And the Department of Energy reports that cyber attacks on U.S. utilities have increased year over year. Some causing small outages.
In 2014, it was reported that a South Korean nuclear plant found cyber worms in its systems.
So when this news story about bad actors are still trying to hack into Western nuclear power plants crossed the wire, it caused chills. Why? Because instead of trying to shut down plants based on an anti-nuclear power agenda, these hackers may try to use the plant as a weapon of mass destruction.
From the Associated Press:
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The “nightmare scenario” is rising for a hacking attack on a nuclear power plant’s computer system that causes the uncontrolled release of radiation, the United Nations’ deputy chief warned Thursday.
Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told a Security Council meeting that extremists and “vicious non-state groups” are actively seeking weapons of mass destruction “and these weapons are increasingly accessible.”
Non-state actors can already create mass disruption using cyber technologies – and hacking a nuclear plant would be a “nightmare scenario,” he said.
The open council meeting focused on ways to stop the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons by extremist groups and criminals. Members unanimously approved a resolution to strengthen the work of the council committee monitoring what countries are doing to prevent “non-state actors” from acquiring or using weapons of mass destruction, known as WMDs.
Eliasson said there are legitimate concerns about the security of stockpiles of radioactive material suitable for making nuclear weapons but that are outside international regulation.
In addition, he said, “scientific advances have lowered barriers to the production of biological weapons.”
“And emerging technologies, such as 3D printing and unmanned aerial vehicles, are adding to threats of an attack using a WMD,” Eliasson said.
He said the international community needs robust defenses to stay ahead of this technological curve. “Preventing a WMD attack by a non-state actor will be a long-term challenge that requires long-term responses,” Eliasson said.
U.N. disarmament chief Kim Won-soo said the new resolution recognizes “the growing threats and risks associated with biological weapons” and the need for the 193 U.N. member states, international groups and regional organizations to step-up information sharing on these threats and risks.
Kim said it is important that the Security Council keep up its focus on preventing deadly weapons from getting into the hands of extremists and criminals, but it also needs to study how to respond if prevention fails.
“The consequences of an attack would be disastrous and we must be prepared,” he said.