Cybersecurity risks at nuclear facilities around the world

Recent reports from the Nuclear Threat Initiative and Chatham House, both find that nuclear facilities in many countries are “easy targets for cyberattacks.” Among problems cited in the reports are a significant nuclear presence, few government regulations, and inadequate or corrupt oversight of nuclear facilities.

The reports highlight important issues, but are disappointing in that they provide little insight into the raw data used to draw their conclusions. Both reports talk about regulations existing in some jurisdictions and not in others, and also cite cybersecurity elements of regulations in some jurisdictions, but not others, but provide no sources. References to the regulations examined by the authors would help everyone interested in a deeper understanding access those regulations to understand them better.

The reports do highlight an important fact – for all the talk of cybersecurity vulnerabilities, many of the older reactors in the world are still controlled with analog controls, and those controls are immune to digital cybersabotage/compromise attempts. Newer reactors though, use digital controls and so are of greater concern. And even those reactors with analog controls for the reactor core may use digital controls for other aspects of the reactors, such as controls for cooling equipment. It was after all, cooling equipment that was damaged in the Fukishima tsunami, and whose failure ultimately resulted in explosions and the release of large amounts of radioactive materials.

Cyberattack tools, like any other software, continue to evolve and develop more features. As a result, cybersecurity attacks only become more sophisticated over time. What is today’s “advanced attack” is tomorrow’s script-kiddie tool. Nuclear generators should be leading the way for both physical and cybersecurity for industrial control systems. All industrial sites should be looking to the attacks of concern to nuclear generators and the defensive systems being deployed to deflect such attacks. What is of concern today to only nuclear sites will be every ICS site’s problem in only a handful of years.

Physical and cybersecurity at nuclear sites is a difficult problem. At Waterfall Security Solutions, we are proud to be part of the cybersecurity solution at nuclear generators throughout the USA, as well as in Japan, South Korea and Spain. Waterfall’s Unidirectional Security Gateways block 100 percent of network attacks originating on external networks at nuclear generators in these and other jurisdictions.

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