Russian crackers attacked the websites of a local nuclear power plant last week shortly after planting false rumours of an accident at the facility.
Internet forums were buzzing with bogus reports of "radioactive emissions" emanating from the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant near St Petersburg and an evacuation of locals at the same time official websites were knocked offline, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reports.
Russian officials reckon the attack was coordinated, suggesting opponents of the nuclear industry might have been behind the scare.
"This was a planned action by hackers, which has brought down almost all sites providing access to the Automatic Radiation Environment Control System (ASKRO), including the Leningrad NPP site, the rosatom.ru site, and others. For several hours users were unable to reach the sites and obtain reliable information on the situation at the plant," a spokesman for the Rosatom state nuclear corporation told RIA Novosti.
"People who stand to lose out from the Russian nuclear power industry's development have an incentive to spread false rumors of an accident at the nuclear plant."
The ASKRO systems, which provides real-time information on radiation levels and incidents, has now been restored.
The malevolent hack has implications beyond simply creating unnecessary panic. Last year false reports of an accident at the Volgodonsk nuclear plant prompted dozens of people to overdose on iodine, poisoning themselves in the process.
Taking regular iodine can saturate the thyroid and prevent uptake of radioactive iodine in cases of nuclear incidents. Iodine is an essential trace element in human biology. Radioactive isotopes of the element can cause cancers, particularly in the thyroid gland. ®