The US government has issued a rare public warning that sophisticated hackers are targeting energy and industrial firms, the latest sign that cyberattacks present an increasing threat to the power industry and other public infrastructure.
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and FBI warned in a report distributed by e-mail late on Friday that the nuclear, energy, aviation, water and critical manufacturing industries have been targeted along with government entities in attacks dating back to at least May.
The agencies said that hackers had succeeded in compromising some targeted networks, but did not identify specific victims or describe any cases of sabotage.
The objective of the attackers is to compromise organizational networks with malicious e-mails and tainted Web sites to obtain credentials for accessing computer networks of their targets, the report said.
US authorities have been monitoring the activity for months, which they initially detailed in a confidential June report first reported by Reuters.
That document, which was privately distributed to firms at risk of attacks, described a narrower set of activity focusing on the nuclear, energy and critical manufacturing sectors.
DHS spokesman Scott McConnell declined to elaborate on the information in the report or say what prompted the government to go public with the information at this time.
“The technical alert provides recommendations to prevent and mitigate malicious cyberactivity targeting multiple sectors and reiterated our commitment to remain vigilant for new threats,” he said.
The FBI declined to comment on the report, which security researchers said described an escalation in targeting of infrastructure in Europe and the US that had been described in recent reports from private firms, including Symantec Corp.
“This is very aggressive activity,” said Robert Lee, chief executive of cyber-security firm Dragos and an expert in securing industrial networks.
Lee said the report appears to describe hackers working in the interests of the Russian government, but he declined to elaborate.
Dragos is also monitoring other groups targeting infrastructure that appear to be aligned with China, Iran and North Korea, he said.
The hacking described in the government report is unlikely to result in dramatic attacks in the near term, Lee said, but he added that it is still troubling: “We don’t want our adversaries learning enough to be able to do things that are disruptive later.”
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