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Nuclear Facilities in 20 Countries May Be Easy Targets for Cyberattacks via The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Twenty nations with significant atomic stockpiles or nuclear power plants have no government regulations requiring minimal protection of those facilities against cyberattacks, according to a study by the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

The findings build on growing concerns that a cyberattack could be the easiest and most effective way to take over a nuclear power plant and sabotage it, or to disable defenses that are used to protect nuclear material from theft. The countries on the list include Argentina, China, Egypt, Israel, Mexico and North Korea.

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The report also concludes that President Obama’s global initiative to sweep up loose nuclear material, which will be the subject of his third and final nuclear security summit meeting this March, has slowed substantially.

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The Nuclear Threat Initiative, which publishes an annual index of nuclear security around the world, notes that a dozen countries have eliminated all weapons-usable nuclear materials since the summit meetings began. Many more have greatly improved the security surrounding lightly guarded materials, which are stored every place from hospitals to research reactors on university campuses.

But at the very moment that the black market in nuclear materials remains active, the report found that 24 nations still had more than 2.2 pounds of weapons-usable nuclear material, “much of it still too vulnerable to theft,” and many have just begun to think about their vulnerability to cyberthreats that could enable an attacker to sabotage a site without breaking through fences or risk setting off perimeter alarms.

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“Too many states require virtually no effective security measures at nuclear facilities to address the threat posed by hackers,” the study, in which the Economist Intelligence Unit also participated, concluded. Of the two dozen nations with weapons-usable material, nine got the maximum score for cyberindicators, and seven got a score of zero.

In 23 nations that possessed no weapons-usable materials, but had nuclear power plants or other nuclear facilities that contain fuel that could be converted to weapons use, 13 got a zero score.

More than 80 percent of all nuclear stockpiles are classified as military material, meaning they are largely used in weapons programs, and all of those are outside international security review, including the guidelines issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency for the protection of civilian nuclear stocks.

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