Hackers targeted the US government agency tasked with securing the nuclear weapons stockpile

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The Department of Energy building is shown in Washington, Friday, May 1, 2015 AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
  • Hackers hit the Department of Energy, including the National Nuclear Security Administration responsible for overseeing the nuclear weapons stockpile, Politico reported Thursday.
  • In a statement on the hack, DOE said that “mission essential national security functions of the department,” to include those carried out by the NNSA, had not been affected and that the hack appears to have been limited to “business networks.”
  • The hack, DOE said, is linked to the SolarWinds compromise, which has reportedly affected a number of federal government departments and agencies.
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Hackers targeted the Department of Energy (DOE) and its National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which secures the US nuclear weapons stockpile, Politico first reported Thursday, citing officials familiar with the matter.

Bloomberg reported the security breach as well, characterising it as part of the massive cyberattack by suspected Russian hackers that has impacted a number of federal government agencies and departments.

The US has an estimated 3,800 nuclear weapons stockpiled, according to the Federation of American Scientists. Many of these weapons were produced during the early years of the Cold War and are overseen by the NNSA, a critical mission of which is securing these stored nukes.

Networks at multiple DOE installations were reportedly affected, including at the Office of Secure Transportation, which moves nuclear materials, assembled weapons, and components.

Sen. Deb Fischer, of Nebraska, chair of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, said that she was “troubled” by reports that hackers had targeted the NNSA.

“Our nuclear deterrent is the bedrock of our national security. The NNSA’s infrastructure and computer systems play a vital role and must be protected,” she said in a statement.

DOE spokesperson Shaylyn Hynes told Politico that the hackers did not gain access to critical national security systems.

“At this point, the investigation has found that the malware has been isolated to business networks only, and has not impacted the mission essential national security functions of the department, including the National Nuclear Security Administration,” Hynes explained.

“When DOE identified vulnerable software, immediate action was taken to mitigate the risk, and all software identified as being vulnerable to this attack was disconnected from the DOE network,” the spokesperson added.

The department said that the cyber incident was related to the hack of SolarWinds Corp., a company whose software is used by numerous corporate and federal government customers. Among the departments and agencies that have reportedly been breached are the departments of Homeland Security, Defence, Treasury, State, and Commerce.

“This is looking like it’s the worst hacking case in the history of America,” an official told the Associated Press Thursday. “They got into everything.”

A joint statement from the FBI, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and CISA said Wednesday that it was aware of “a significant and ongoing cybersecurity campaign” that “has affected networks within the federal government.” It said that this is a “developing situation” and that efforts to understand the compromise are ongoing.


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CISA said Thursday that the “threat actor has demonstrated sophistication and complex tradecraft in these intrusions,” adding that “removing the threat actor from compromised environments will be highly complex and challenging.”

The cybersecurity agency did not say who was responsible for the attack, which it characterised as a “grave” threat. The top senators on the Armed Services Committee said that the attack “has the hallmarks of a Russian intelligence operation.” Russia has denied any involvement.

President Donald Trump has not yet publicly addressed the hack, President-elect Joe Biden said Thursday that cybersecurity will be a priority of his administration and that “our adversaries should know that, as president, I will not stand idly by in the face of cyber assaults on our nation.”