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Cyberattack Targeting Kansas Nuclear Facility Highlights Bigger Cybersecurity Threats

Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Flickr - CC
The New York Times reports that hackers have penetrated the computer networks of companies that run nuclear plants across the United States, including the Wolf Creek plant in southeast Kansas.

Hackers have been infiltrating the networks of companies that run nuclear plants in the United States, including in Kansas, since May.

The New York Times reports that U.S. officials suspect foreign governments, including Russia, are behind the attacks. 

The hacks reportedly targeted companies that operate nuclear plants, including Wolf Creek nuclear plant in Burlington, Kansas, which is a 90-minute drive southwest of Kansas City.

Bill Gross with the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry lobbying group, says these hacks are no “cause for worry.” He says Wolf Creek and other nuclear plants run on digital networks independent of their owners’ corporate networks.

“They’re fully isolated. There’s no way to get data into the plant from the outside without somebody doing it by hand,” Gross says.

Officials at Wolf Creek have said no "operations systems" have been affected. 

But Marty Rosenberg, editor of Energy Times, a digital publication that reports on the energy sector, says the public should be concerned about the attacks. 

"Utilities have publicly reported that they are under attack constantly, daily, by bad actors, cyber terrorists, foreign governments, criminal elements that are probing their system, trying to get control of data about customers, about energy use," Rosenberg says. 

He agrees with official statements that the hacks have not compromised any operational systems at the nuclear plant.

Still, he says cyber attacks are a huge threat to the United States, not just to nuclear facilities but to many industries. As industries continue to evolve in a digital age, he says governments and ordinary citizens must be vigilant. 

Kansas Senator Jerry Moran issued a statement Friday condemning the attacks.

“Reports of cyberattacks on the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation in Burlington, Kansas, and other nuclear power plants across the country are deeply concerning and a serious threat to national security," Moran said.

“I am working with the appropriate authorities to learn more about the cyberattacks at Wolf Creek and ways in which our federal government can work more closely with the private sector to protect our critical infrastructure systems from cyberattacks.”

Wolf Creek is jointly owned by several utilities, including Kansas City Power and Light and Westar.

KCUR's Kyle Palmer contributed to this report.

Lisa Rodriguez is a reporter and the afternoon newscaster for KCUR 89.3. Connect with her on Twitter @larodrig.

Slow news days are a thing of the past. As KCUR’s news director, I want to cut through the noise, provide context to the headlines, and give you news you can use in your daily life – information that will empower you to make informed decisions about your neighborhood, your city and the region. Email me at lisa@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @larodrig.
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