Sellafield Nuclear Dump Guilty Of Cybersecurity Failings

Concerns over the nuclear site's cyber defenses have existed for well over a decade, with a prominent trade union expressing worry over culture of intimidation.

by Alan J June 21st, 2024

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The UK’s Sellafield nuclear waste site has pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to various cybersecurity failings in the period spanning 2019-2023. Sellafield admitted it had failed “to ensure adequate protection of sensitive nuclear information on its information technology network.”

The Sellafield nuclear site has the word’s largest store of plutonium and has been used to dispose of waste generated from decades of weapons programs and atomic power generation. Concerns over the nuclear site’s cyber defenses have existed for well over a decade.

Sellafield Nuclear Waste Site’s Cybersecurity Failings

Concerns over the site’s security implementations grew after a 2012 report warned of “critical security vulnerabilities” requiring urgent attention. Due to the extreme sensitivity of the issues, problems were referred to with the codename “Voldemort.” While Sellafield stated there has never been a successful cyberattack, revelations of IT failures last year raised alarms.

In an investigative report last year, the Guardian uncovered that the site had been attacked by threat actors affiliated with the Russian and Chinese governments. The report found out that the site’s authorities were not aware of when Sellafield’s systems began to be compromised, but breaches may have gone as far back as the year 2015. In 2015, security experts had realized that Sellafield’s computer systems had been compromised by sleeper malware.

Sellafield had been earlier forced into “special measures” for regular cybersecurity failings by the UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and security services.

The status of the compromised systems are unknown, but may have possibly led to the theft of sensitive information regarding moving of radioactive waste, monitoring for leaks of dangerous material, and fire checks.

Sellafield stated that current protections on critical systems are robust, with isolated networks preventing external IT breaches from penetrating operational controls. An ONR spokesperson stated to the Guardian: “We acknowledge that Sellafield Limited has pleaded guilty to all charges,” but emphasized that there was no evidence the vulnerabilities led to compromise.

A Sellafield spokesman stated in the report, “We have pleaded guilty to all charges and cooperated fully with ONR throughout this process. The charges relate to historic offences and there is no suggestion that public safety was compromised.”

Concerns of GMB Trade Union

With attention now focused on improving cyber resilience, officials are working to prevent sensitive materials or dangerous nuclear operations from potential disruption by hackers.

Earlier the GMB trade union, which represents tens of thousands of workers across the energy industry, also expressed concerns over the security of Sellafield, with its national secretary Andy Prendergast noting a “lack of training and competence among staff, inadequate safety procedures and a culture of fear and intimidation.”

Prendergast added, “GMB has repeatedly raised concerns over safety and staffing levels, which are mainly due to turnover and the age and demographic of the workforce.”


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