A nuclear power plant became the target of a disruptive cyberattack two to three years ago, the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog said Monday.
“This is not an imaginary risk,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director Yukiya Amano told Reuters and a German newspaper during a visit to Germany that included a meeting with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
“This issue of cyberattacks on nuclear-related facilities or activities should be taken very seriously. We never know if we know everything or if it’s the tip of the iceberg,” Amano said.
Amano declined to give details of the incident, but said the cyberattack caused “some disruption” at the plant, although it did not prove to be very serious since the plant did not have to shut down its operations. He said he had not previously discussed the cyberattack in public.
“This actually happened and it caused some problems,” he said, adding while the plant did not have to shut down, it “needed to take some precautionary measures.”
He said the attack was disruptive, not destructive, a term used to refer to incidents like the 2014 attack that destroyed data on computers of Sony Corp’s Sony Pictures Entertainment and rendered some of its internal networks inoperable. The Stuxnet attack where centrifuges ended up destroyed via a cyberattack conducted in a joint effort by the United States and Israel was a destructive attack.
Concerns about cyberattacks on nuclear sites have grown in recent years after the emergence of computer malware that can be used to attack industrial controls.
Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co Ltd, which operates 23 nuclear reactors in South Korea, said in 2014 it was beefing up cyber security after non-critical data was stolen from its computer systems, although reactor operations were not at risk.
In April, German utility RWE increased its security after its Gundremmingen nuclear power plant was found to be infected with computer viruses. The company said they did not appear to have posed a threat to operations.
Amano said the U.N. agency was helping countries increase cyber and overall nuclear security through training and a detailed database that included information from 131 countries, and by providing them with radiation detection devices.