On Thursday, federal prosecutors with the United States Department of Justice announced that a trio of Russian spies attempted to hack multiple power plants around the world, with the aim of seizing control of energy companies in 135 different countries.
As reported by the New York Post, the three hackers were members of a covert unit known as “Dragonfly,” which operated within the Russian Federal Security Service. The group targeted hardware and software utilized by hundreds of different companies in the management of nuclear power plants and other sources of energy.
In the newly unsealed indictment from the Justice Department, the three men – 36-year-old Pavel Aleksandrovich Akulov, 42-year-old Mikhail Mikhailovich Gavrilov, and 39-year-old Marat Valeryevich Tyukov – are accused of using a tactic known as “spearphishing” in email scams in order to infiltrate energy companies. Once they gained access, they would then insert malware into software updates that would affect over 17,000 users.
The plan lasted over the course of five years, between 2012 and 2017. Among the targets were the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a New York-based renewable energy company that was unnamed in the indictment, and the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corp. based out of Kansas.
In addition to American targets, the group also set its sights on targets in the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, and China, according to prosecutors.
“The potential of cyberattacks to disrupt, if not paralyze, the delivery of critical energy services to hospitals, homes, businesses and other locations essential to sustaining our communities is a reality in today’s world,” said Duston Slinkard, U.S. attorney for the District of Kansas. “We must acknowledge there are individuals actively seeking to wreak havoc on our nation’s vital infrastructure system, and we must remain vigilant in our effort to thwart such attacks.”
The news of the plot comes as multiple U.S. government officials warn that the likelihood of a mass cyberattack against the United States by Russia is supposedly higher than ever before, as the U.S. and many other nations have imposed sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.