WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Thursday blamed the Russian government for a campaign of cyber attacks stretching back two years that targeted the U.S. power grid including nuclear facilities.
The condemnation is the first time the United States has publicly accused Russia of attempting to hack into the American energy infrastructure, which U.S. security officials have long warned may be vulnerable to debilitating cyber attacks from hostile adversaries.
An alert published by the Department of Homeland Security and FBI said a “multi-stage intrusion campaign by Russian government cyber actors” had targeted the networks of small commercial facilities “where they staged malware, conducted spear phishing, and gained remote access into energy sector networks.”
It was not clear what impact the attacks had on the U.S. energy and industrial firms that were targeted.
Beginning in March 2016 or possibly earlier, Russian government hackers targeted government entities and multiple U.S. critical infrastructure sectors, including energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation and manufacturing, according to Thursday’s alert.
News of the hacking campaign first surfaced in June in a confidential alert to industry that described attacks on industrial firms, including nuclear plants, but did not blame the Russian government for the attacks.
In October, the DHS also released a public alert listing much of the same technical guidance, but it did not at the time name the Russian government.
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Russia has been widely blamed for two wide-reaching attacks on the Ukrainian energy grid in 2015 and 2016, which has been roundly condemned but led to little international response.
The U.S. Department of Energy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
But Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who was testifying in a House of Representatives panel when the news broke about the Russian attacks, told lawmakers that “almost on a daily basis” he realizes “more and more” that cyber security is a high priority for the country and the protection of the power grid.
On Thursday, the U.S. Treasury Department also announced it had imposed sanctions on 19 Russian people and five groups, including Moscow’s intelligence services, for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and other malicious cyber attacks.
(Reporting by Dustin Volz, additional reporting by Jim Finkle and Timothy Gardner; Editing by Tom Brown and Alistair Bell)