While both of these attacks appeared to target, at least initially, the theft of email and other data, the nature of the intrusions created “backdoors” that experts believe could ultimately allow attacks on the Internet. physical infrastructure. So far, no effort seems to have led to anything other than data theft.
The Biden administration last month announced sanctions against Russia for SolarWinds and is expected to issue an executive order in the next few days that would take action to secure critical infrastructure, including requiring increased security for providers providing services to the federal government. .
The United States has long warned that Russia planted malicious code in electricity distribution networks, and the United States responded several years ago by inserting similar code into the Russian grid.
But actual attacks on energy systems are rare. About ten years ago, Iran was accused of an attack on the computer systems of Saudi Aramco, one of the world’s largest producers, which destroyed 30,000 computers. This attack, which appeared to be a response to the US-Israel attack on Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, did not affect operations.
Another attack on a Saudi petrochemical plant in 2017 nearly sparked a major industrial disaster. But it was shut down quickly, and investigators later attributed it to Russian hackers. This year, someone briefly took control of a water treatment plan in a small town in Florida, in what appeared to be an effort to poison the supply, but the attempt was quickly halted.
Clifford Krauss contributed reporting.