WASHINGTON — A story published by the New York Times this week suggested that Nebraska’s Cooper Nuclear Station had seen its communications networks hacked by the Russians.

That’s apparently news to officials with the Nebraska Public Power District, which runs the plant.

“Nobody got into our system,” NPPD spokesman Mark Becker told The World-Herald. “There was no breach.”

The Times story was focused on stepped-up U.S. activities targeting Russia’s power grid and cited past incidents of Russian incursions into U.S. systems.

According to the story, when Gen. Paul Nakasone “took over both Cyber Command and the NSA a year ago, his staff was assessing Russian hackings on targets that included the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corp., which runs a nuclear power plant near Burlington, Kansas, as well as previously unreported attempts to infiltrate Nebraska Public Power District’s Cooper Nuclear Station, near Brownville. The hackers got into communications networks, but never took over control systems.”

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Becker said it’s true that hackers sniff around the utility’s systems on a daily basis — as they do with the computer networks of lots of businesses, government agencies and other operations.

And it’s not always clear whether a particular attack is coming from Russian operatives or someone trying to be Matthew Broderick’s character in “War Games.”

And Becker said NPPD was informed by federal officials in 2017 about a hacking campaign that targeted U.S. nuclear plants.

That notification prompted NPPD staff to check its firewall logs.

“We had one or two hits, but nothing made it past our protective tools in place,” Becker said.

The Cooper station’s control room is walled off from the rest of the world, Becker said, and even NPPD business systems don’t link to it.

And neither side was compromised, he said.

“We did not have any breach that we are even aware of on either the Cooper side or the business side,” he said.

The NPPD sent a memo to employees this week responding to the Times article that stated that the utility’s security team had reached out to various U.S. government agencies about the claims.

The memo also stated that no breach had occurred and told employees that the biggest threat to the NPPD remains malicious emails and that employees must remain vigilant.

Becker said that NPPD has been stepping up its cyberdefenses in recent years and that it has robust cybersecurity, as well as good physical security, at the nuclear station.

He said that if some government official is aware of a breach, he hopes they would inform the NPPD.

“We would trust that someone within the government agency would say, ‘We see this, are you seeing it?’ And we have not gotten any calls like that,” Becker said.

Reporter - Politics/Washington D.C.

Joseph Morton is The World-Herald Washington Bureau Chief. Morton joined The World-Herald in 1999 and has been reporting from Washington for the newspaper since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @MortonOWH. Email:joseph.morton@owh.com

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