US Warns About Attacks On Energy, Industrial Firms

FILE - The Watts Bar Nuclear Plant cooling towers Unit 1, left, and Unit 2 rise near Spring City, Tenn., April 29, 2015.

The Watts Bar Nuclear Plant cooling towers Unit 1, left, and Unit 2 rise near Spring City, Tenn., April 29, 2015.

 

The Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation warned in a report distributed by email late on Friday that the nuclear, energy, aviation, water and critical manufacturing industries have been targeted along with government entities in attacks dating back to at least May.

The agencies warned that hackers had succeeded in compromising some targeted networks, but did not identify specific victims or describe any cases of sabotage.

The objective of the attackers is to compromise organizational networks with malicious emails and tainted websites to obtain credentials for accessing computer networks of their targets, the report said.

U.S. authorities have been monitoring the activity for months, which they initially detailed in a confidential June report first reported by Reuters. That document, which was privately distributed to firms at risk of attacks, described a narrower set of activity focusing on the nuclear, energy and critical manufacturing sectors.

Department of Homeland Security spokesman Scott McConnell declined to elaborate on the information in the report or say what prompted the government to go public with the information at this time.

"The technical alert provides recommendations to prevent and mitigate malicious cyber activity targeting multiple sectors and reiterated our commitment to remain vigilant for new threats," he said.

The FBI declined to comment on the report, which security researchers said described an escalation in targeting of infrastructure in Europe and the United States that had been described in recent reports from private firms, including Symantec Corp.

"This is very aggressive activity," said Robert Lee, an expert in securing industrial networks.

Lee, chief executive of cyber-security firm Dragos, said the report appears to describe hackers working in the interests of the Russian government, though he declined to elaborate. Dragos is also monitoring other groups targeting infrastructure that appear to be aligned with China, Iran, North Korea, he said.

The hacking described in the government report is unlikely to result in dramatic attacks in the near term, Lee said, but he added that it is still troubling: "We don’t want our adversaries learning enough to be able to do things that are disruptive later."

The report said that hackers have succeeded in infiltrating some targets, including at least one energy generator, and conducting reconnaissance on their networks. It was accompanied by six technical documents describing malware used in the attacks.

Homeland Security "has confidence that this campaign is still ongoing and threat actors are actively pursuing their objectives over a long-term campaign," the report said.

The report said the attacker was the same as one described by Symantec in a September report that warned advanced hackers had penetrated the systems controlling operations of some U.S.

and European energy companies.

Symantec researcher Vikram Thakur said in an email that much of the contents of Friday's report were previously known within the security community.

Cyber-security firm CrowdStrike said the technical indicators described in the report suggested the attacks were the work of a hacking group it calls Berserk Bear, which is affiliated with the Russian Federation and has targeted the energy, financial and transportation industries.

"We have not observed any destructive action by this actor," CrowdStrike Vice President Adam Meyers said in an email.

Divers Removing 30-Year-Old Junk Reef Off California Coast

This Oct. 12, 2017, photo provided by the California Coastal Commission/UC Davis shows a pile of scrap tires after they were pulled out of the water off Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach, Calif.

This Oct. 12, 2017, photo provided by the California Coastal Commission/UC Davis shows a pile of scrap tires after they were pulled out of the water off Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach, Calif.

 

Divers are removing hundreds of old tires, plastic jugs and other junk that was dumped off the Southern California coast nearly 30 years ago by a man who thought he was helping the ocean environment.

The cleanup began last week off of Newport Beach, the California Coastal Commission announced Wednesday.

“It's about time this was cleaned up. Dumping plastic and other trash into our oceans is not the way to restore the marine ecosystem,” commission Chair Dayna Bochco said in a statement. “There is an estimated 18 billion pounds of plastic that enters the world's oceans every year and we must do what we can to clean this up.”

In 1988, Rodolphe Streichenberger created what he described as an experimental, artificial reef.

The reef covered several acres of ocean floor and consisted of 1,500 used automobile tires, 2,000 one-gallon plastic jugs covered with plastic mesh, 100 sections of PVC pipe and other items, including fishing net, Styrofoam and iron roads, the commission said.

Streichenberger believed the reef would spur the growth of kelp forests, provide a place to grow mussels for commercial harvest and rebuild ocean habitat damaged by pollution and development.

The materials are “absolutely harmless,” Streichenberger told the Los Angeles Times in 1996. “You have seen no impact. Only fish. It's very good for the fish.”

But his research was “deeply flawed,” according to the Coastal Commission.

“State scientists said the tires contained harmful toxins, the material was not dense enough to anchor to the ocean floor and warned the discarded netting and ropes could trap fish and marine mammals,” the commission said in its statement.

“It's hard to believe there was a time when someone thought this was a good idea,” commission Executive Director Jack Ainsworth said. “We now know that plastic is poison in the ocean, polluting every level of the food chain.”

Streichenberger also had failed to obtain permission from the commission for the project. He was refused a retroactive permit in 1997 and the commission eventually issued a cease-and-desist order.

Streichenberger and his now-defunct Marine Forests Society sued, challenging the commission's authority. In 2005, the California Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling and sided with the commission.

Streichenberger died the next year at 77.

Over the years, the Coastal Commission and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife kept tabs on the reef.

Instead of a thriving and diverse ecosystem, divers found that the junk had been spread around the sea floor by currents and held only “the type of marine life commonly found on pier pilings and boat bottoms,” the commission statement said.

“There's no native kelp, just a few fish swimming around,” said Kirsten Gilardi, assistant director at the Wildlife Health Center School at the University of California, Davis, which is involved in the cleanup. “It's nothing like the diversity and density you'd see on a natural rocky reef off the Southern California coast.”

Earlier this year, the Coastal Commission finally found a way to fund a cleanup through permit fees for a different underwater project at Hermosa Beach.

Since then, divers have been pulling tires from the water at the rate of about 100 a day, according to the commission.

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