Officials in Washington say that Russian hackers are in the midst of a widespread attack on crucial components of U.S. infrastructure, according to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report released Thursday.
The targets of these attacks include the country’s electric grid, including its nuclear power system, as well as “commercial facilities, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors,” the statement said.
The report is damning confirmation of what has for months been suspected: that hackers in Russia are capable of infiltrating and compromising vital systems relied on by millions of Americans. According to the new report, the attacks began at least as early as March 2016, thriving on vulnerabilities in these systems’ online operations.
“In some cases, information posted to company websites, especially information that may appear to be innocuous, may contain operationally sensitive information,” the report reads. “As an example, the threat actors downloaded a small photo from a publicly accessible human resources page. The image, when expanded, was a high-resolution photo that displayed control systems equipment models and status information in the background.”
The hacking efforts relied on the tactic known as “spear-phishing”: sending targets emails from what appear to be legitimate sources, such as Gmail, in an effort to get them to disclose private information like personal passwords.
“Upon gaining access to intended victims, the threat actors conducted reconnaissance operations within the network,” the report reads. “DHS observed the threat actors focusing on identifying and browsing file servers within the intended victim’s network.”
The report cites a widely circulated investigation from Symantec released in October 2017 that linked the hacking group Dragonfly, suspected to be Russian, to a series of attacks on energy systems in the U.S. and Europe.
Bloomberg reports that victims of the attacks included a nuclear power plant located in Kansas.
The new report came on the same day that the U.S. government announced new sanctions against Russia over the country’s reported interference in the 2016 presidential election.