Hackers successfully breached the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) 159 times between October 2010 and October 2014, according to a report in USA TODAY.

Records obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests showed that the DOE reported a total of 1,131 cyber attacks, 159 of them successful, over the four-year period.

Nineteen successful attacks targeted the National Nuclear Security Administration, which is responsible for managing U.S. nuclear weapons. Ninety breaches were connected to the DOE's Office of Science, which directs scientific research.

Fifty-three of the successful attacks were root compromises, giving the atackers administrative privileges in the affected systems.

"The potential for an adversary to disrupt, shut down [power systems], or worse... is real here," Drexel University professor of homeland security and security management Scott White told USA TODAY.

The Department of Energy wouldn't comment on what, if any, data had been stolen, or whether the attacks may have been state-sponsored.

Previously disclosed breaches at the Department of Energy include a breach in January 2013 that exposed several hundred employees' and contractors' personal information, and another breach in July 2013 that exposed 53,000 current and former employees' names, Social Security numbers and birthdates.

BitSight Technologies co-founder and CTO Stephen Boyer told eSecurity Planet by email that the breaches clearly demonstrate that every sector deals with cyber attacks, many of them successful. "What differentiates high performing organizations is not necessarily the absence of intrusions but the speed of response and recovery," he said. "The very fact that DOE has detected the issues and marked them as 'losses' is a signal that they have a process in place for detection, response, recovery and reporting."

And Philip Casesa, director of product development and portfolio management at (ISC)2, said the attacks are a reminder that we live in a time of unprecedented intelligence gathering by several different adversaries. "This includes individuals that hack for sport, hacking groups with a social agenda and governments spying on each other," he said.

"Information security teams in all areas of our critical infrastructure are required to perform superhuman vigilance in the defense of these systems against attackers that can truly come from anywhere," Casesa added. "These personnel are now as critical to our national defense as early warning radar personnel were for NORAD during the Cold War."

A recent eSecurity Planet article examined the future of cyber warfare.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.