Department of Homeland Security officials confirmed a story, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, that nation-state hackers were suspected of breaking into the computer systems that run “hundreds” of U.S. utilities.
DHS spokesperson Lesley Fulop said the statements cited by the Journal were taken from an agency webinar hosted July 23. "As we say in the webinar, this activity took place last summer," she said in an email.
Fulop said attackers were able to access a "very small" asset that "would not have had any impact on the larger grid if taken offline." She said government agencies investigated the activity, and worked closely with private sector companies to "learn additional information ... helpful to industry in defending against this threat."
The revelations come on the heels of predictions by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats of an impending cyberattack on par with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Coats, who oversees the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency, among other departments, said Russia was more aggressive, but Iran had also poised on U.S. infrastructure, and China also posed a continued cyberthreat.
U.S. officials have been raising alarms about nation-state interference and intrusions on U.S. infrastructure, especially from Russia, in recent weeks.
But this is far from the first warning from government officials about a significant upcoming cyber-event, nor the first time nation-states have made robust, successful efforts to penetrate public sector computers.