The Justice Department made public on Thursday charges against four Russians accused of trying to hack energy sites for their government. Had one of the efforts succeeded, US officials said in a statement, Russia would have gained the capability to disrupt energy sector computer systems whenever it wanted, which could cause catastrophic infrastructure damage. The charges say the attempts took place between 2012 and 2018, CBS News reports. The announcement is being made now as an alert, an official said, given the tensions surrounding Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
One of the men is an official in the Russian Ministry of Defense who's accused of conspiring to damage refineries, per USA Today. The other three, officers in Russia's Federal Security Service, are accused of trying to compromise computers at hundreds of energy-sector sites around the world. All four are at large, and US officials think they're in Russia, per CNN. Their targets included US government agencies, officials said, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Federal officials said the latter three were involved in an attack on the business network tied to the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corp. in Burlington, Kansas.
President Biden warned US businesses this week that they could be attacked by hackers tied to the Russian government during the war. Last week, the FBI said hackers tied to Russian internet addresses have been scanning the networks of five US energy companies, which could be preparation for a hacking attempt. "Although the criminal charges unsealed today reflect past activity," said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, "they make crystal clear the urgent ongoing need for American businesses to harden their defenses and remain vigilant." (Read more Russian hackers stories.)