STATE IMPACT PENNSYLVANIA – A federal indictment filed this week alleges Russian hackers targeted a nuclear power company near Pittsburgh beginning in 2014, in addition to anti-doping agencies throughout the world.
The hackers, who are intelligence officers for the Russian military, tried to breach the network of Westinghouse Electric Company by sending emails to employees intending to trick them into entering login credentials on a webpage spoofing the company’s own network, according to the indictment.
Although the indictment says the hackers stole some credentials before redirecting the workers to the company’s actual network, Westinghouse and federal officials said the hacking attempt was unsuccessful.
“The safety and security of our systems and information is a top priority and we maintain robust processes and procedures to protect against cybersecurity threats,” Westinghouse said in a statement.
Westinghouse supplies technology to half the world’s nuclear power plants, as well as fuel to reactors throughout the globe.
The indictment states that since 2008, the company has supplied increasing amounts of nuclear fuel to Ukraine.
Scott Brady, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, said the indictment mentioned Ukraine to provide context to the situation. He added that protecting Westinghouse was important for national security reasons.
“Westinghouse is one of the leading nuclear companies in the world,” he said. “They are a key corporate entity in this space.”
Brady said the company has a “robust cybersecurity defense” and that there are constant attempts by other nations and hacking groups to compromise American corporations. The best thing a company can do when it notices suspicious activity is to contact law enforcement, he said.
The indictment names seven Russian intelligence officials, who face charges ranging from conspiracy to wire fraud to aggravated identity theft. The charges are not just for alleged actions against Westinghouse, but also stem from efforts to steal and release medical information on 250 elite athletes from American and international anti-doping agencies, among other organizations.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister called the accusations “groundless” and suggested that the United States is trying to bolster its investigation into Russian meddling during the 2016 presidential election by creating these fake allegations. He said American efforts to create tension between the two nuclear powers and other nations is a “dangerous path.”
Brady said he believes all the defendants named in the indictment are now in Russia. The United States does not have an extradition treaty with Russia, so it’s unclear if the alleged hackers will come to Pittsburgh to face charges.
Bob Jones, special agent in charge of the Pittsburgh FBI field office, said the indictment nevertheless acts as a deterrent and prevents the defendants from traveling to other countries, where they could be extradited to the United States.
Brady praised the work of several international partners, including government officials in Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Switzerland. In addition to the charges brought against the hackers in the United States, Canada is leading an investigation, and officials from the U.K. and Dutch governments have announced an operation against some of the same Russian agents.
“Through never-before-seen international corporation, through evidence sharing, communication and collaboration, we allowed the full story of their activities to come to life,” Brady said. “This is a game changer.”