Energy Department Revising Cybersecurity Requirements for Nuclear Administration Contractors

This March 6, 2014 file photo shows the idled Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the nation's only underground nuclear waste repository, near Carlsbad, N.M. U.S. officials are pushing state regulators to clear the way for a new ventilation shaft to be built at the site in southern New Mexico, but watchdog groups say modifying the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant’s permit to allow for the construction could open the door to expansion. The state Environment Department’s Hazardous Waste Bureau held a virtual hearing in May 2021 to gather comments on the proposed permit change. A final decision is anticipated in mid-October.

This March 6, 2014 file photo shows the idled Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the nation's only underground nuclear waste repository, near Carlsbad, N.M. U.S. officials are pushing state regulators to clear the way for a new ventilation shaft to be built at the site in southern New Mexico, but watchdog groups say modifying the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant’s permit to allow for the construction could open the door to expansion. The state Environment Department’s Hazardous Waste Bureau held a virtual hearing in May 2021 to gather comments on the proposed permit change. A final decision is anticipated in mid-October. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan, File)

The changes are coming as the industry argues current regulations are overly burdensome.

The Department of Energy will be updating its cybersecurity and information technology requirements according to a watchdog report about contractors who work on the security of the nation’s nuclear stockpile saying they’re too onerous to comply with. 

Cybersecurity and IT is one of four areas where Energy plans to revise rules governing contractors at the National Nuclear Security Administration, according to a June 16 Government Accountability Office report on the contractors’ perspective. 

The NNSA was one of several government agencies targeted in the hacking campaign where adversaries leveraged unauthorized access to IT management contractor SolarWinds to deliver trojanized software updates to tens of thousands of public and private entities. 

The SolarWinds event prompted Executive Order 14028, which calls for federal contractors eventually adhering to stricter cybersecurity standards. And the NNSA was in the news again in June after subcontractor Sol Oriens acknowledged it was responding to a cyber incident.

The company told CNBC it “recently determined that an unauthorized individual acquired certain documents from our systems. Those documents are currently under review, and we are working with a third-party technological forensic firm to determine the scope of potential data that may have been involved.”

NNSA did not respond to a request for comment by deadline and Sol Oriens said “no current indication that this incident involves client classified or critical security-related information.” But the attack was reportedly the work of ransomware gang REvil, which, according to Mother Jones, blogged that Sol Oriens “did not take all necessary action to protect personal data of their employees and software development for partner companies … We hereby keep a right (sic) to forward all of the relevant documentation and data to military agencies of our choise (sic), including all personal data of employees.”

That doesn’t bode well for future exploitation, one cybersecurity professional told Nextgov.

“REvil’s threat is a clear and long-term threat,” said Jim Gogolinski, vice president of research and intelligence at cyber company iboss. “In the short term, any classified data could be shared or sold to nations hostile to the United States. In the long term, the personnel information extracted could be used for targeting Sol Oriens’ employees through social engineering as well as classic espionage elicitation techniques.”

But just as the Biden administration looks to strengthen contractor requirements, Energy is under pressure to reduce what NNSA contractors interpret to be burdensome regulation in accordance with a congressional effort that began over a decade ago.

“Reports by congressionally mandated panels and commissions published in the past 10 years have found that the environment in which NNSA carried out its oversight of [management and operations] contractors was strained due, in part, to requirements perceived by the M&O contractors as unnecessarily burdensome,” according to the GAO report.

NNSA officials told the GAO the contractors may have misinterpreted some of the regulations over the years. GAO’s findings also reflect the possibility of such misinterpretations.

“While carrying out its own initiative looking into burdensome requirements, [one] contractor observed instances in which the burden of a requirement might have originated from the M&O contractor itself through its interpretation or implementation of the requirement,” GAO wrote.

A DOE spokesperson told Nextgov there are numerous other reasons for revising the regulations.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect comments from the DOE.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.