An energy research facility in the US shut down Internet and email systems earlier this week after it detected evidence of a cyber attack known as an ‘advanced persistent threat’.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory, situated in the state of Tennessee, says it will continue to block email and Internet access while it investigates the attack and makes sure no data was stolen.
The lab was founded in the 1940s to research plutonium refinement and now conducts pioneering research around alternative energy sources including nuclear power. It is home to one of the most powerful super computers in the world, a Cray XT system capable of 1,640 billion calculations per second (petaflops).
The lab has not given any indication of the origin of the attack. However, according to Ashar Aziz, founder of malware protection company FireEye, the term ‘advanced persistent threat’ is often used euphemistically to describe sophisticated information security threats linked to Chinese intelligence agencies.
The phrase was used to describe the email breach that last year gave Google the pretext to pull out of China, and also the attack that successfully penetrated security company RSA.
In a blogpost published last year (before it became a victim itself), RSA said "what all APTs have in common is the more sophisticated ecosystem and R&D support. It’s not about what the malware looks like or how it behaves because that’s a consequence of the real threat: the threat is the people. It makes far more sense to talk about the people and ignore the distractions of the symptoms of this disease."