According to the German BR24 News Agency, a computer virus was discovered at the Gundremmingen nuclear power plant in Germany.
Based on the initial assessment conducted by the experts, the virus didn’t affect any critical parts of the power plant and wouldn’t pose any critical threat. The audit revealed that, unlike Stuxnet, the virus wasn’t created to target power plants but was a more commonly seen variant.
“After the discovery of malicious software on a computer in Gundremmingen emphasizes the operator, the control of sensitive areas was not affected. A computerized expert hand warns of belittling: viruses could jeopardize the data security of the NPP.” states a post published by BR24.
One of the possible infection scenarios is that the virus may have been carried into the network at the Gundremmingen nuclear plant on a USB an employee used on his office computer, which would be the real source of the contamination.
IT expert Thomas Wolf commented on the incident, saying that malware threats exist even in systems that are isolated from the Internet and that any process where data is exchanged can be an effective source of virus contagion. Wolf also pointed out that the virus could easily spread even in environments that have a “comprehensive virus protection and sophisticated security management”.
In this incident, the virus was discovered in the system at the Gundremmingen nuclear plant that transported used reactor fuel to the warehouse.
“Systems that control the nuclear process are analog thus isolated from cyber threats. These systems are designed with security features that protects them against manipulation.” Said Tobias Schmidt, spokesman for the Gundremmingen nuclear plant.
Cyber attacks against nuclear power plants and industrial control systems are probably at the top of a long list of potential disasters that can be caused by hackers.
Until now Stuxnet, which targeted nuclear power plants in Iran, was the most widely publicized threat against such systems. This incident shows however that threats against nuclear power plants are not limited to targeted attacks, but may also be caused by more common attacks. The malware was discovered in the part of the plant named “Blok B” which luckily was isolated from any radioactive functions.
In December 2014 the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) reported an attack targeting a steel mill in Germany where resulted in physical damage to the furnace.
The name of the steel mill wasn’t disclosed, but the incident clearly showed that attacks targeting industrial controls could have important results.
Different from more open conflict-style cyber attacks such as the ones we have recently seen against Ukraine’s electricity infrastructure, these attacks seem to be the actions of smaller and possibly civilian threat actors. Yet, the threat is very real and based on the increasing number of incidents involving industrial control systems it looks like the current security approach of “computerized but isolated from the internet” is not enough.
Industrial control systems that use computers usually are “protected” by a topology where they are not connected to the Internet.
This approach seems effective at first, but both, Stuxnet and this incident, where systems that aren’t connected to the Internet were targeted show that additional measure are required.
According to a recently released report, Germany is not adequately equipped to prevent terrorist attacks in its nuclear plants.
According to the Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) news agency, the report was presented by Oda Becker, an independent expert on nuclear plants.
This is of course extremely distressing, especially in the light of the recent tragic events in Belgium with substantial casualties.
The report was brought to public attention at the German Federation for the Environment and Nature Conservation (BUND) Congress, where concerns were expressed towards protecting citizens from the catastrophic consequences of another terrorist attack.
Cyber attacks are one of the options for a terrorist plot, coordinates cyber attacks on nuclear plants would have dramatic repercussion on the Homeland security of any government that needs to address this risk in the national cyber stratgy.
In April, in the light of the recent events with the terrorist attacks, the governments of the US and the UK to take measures, as well as try to prepare as best as they can. As part of this preparation, the two countries have decided to simulate cyber attacks on nuclear plants to test how safe this environment is proven to be.
Written by: Alper Başaran
Alper Basaran provides business process focused and goal oriented penetration testing services to his customers. Based in Turkey he has expanded his operations to the Middle East.
Edited by Pierluigi Paganini
(Security Affairs – Gundremmingen nuclear plant, malware)