Russian hackers didn’t just meddle with the 2016 election, they’ve also threatened the United States’ electrical power grid.
This stunning discovery came to light when federal officials gave utility executives across the nation a copy of the malware code used by the Russian hackers, who apparently were the same ones involved in the Democratic email hacks.
After the code was distributed, to help companies check to see if their computer systems were infected, an electric company in Vermont found it in their internal computer systems.
Officials speaking to The Washington Post on Friday did not identify the utility company affected by the cyber attack, but there are only two major utility companies in the whole state: Green Mountain Power and Burlington Electric.
The computer systems were reportedly infected via emails that tricked the recipient into revealing passwords.
The Russians reportedly did not actively cause any alteration to the normal course of operations at the company; as WaPo explains:
‘American officials, including one senior administration official, said they are not yet sure what the intentions of the Russians might have been. The penetration may have been designed… as a test by the Russians to see whether they could penetrate a portion of the [nation’s power] grid.’
Even still, the fact that Russian hackers got inside the computer systems of a U.S. power company at all has disastrous implications for our national security.
As WaPo reports,
‘Government and utility industry officials regularly monitor the nation’s electrical grid because it is highly computerized and any disruptions can have disastrous implications for the function of medical and emergency services.’
And indeed, Russian hackers have already wrought “disastrous” circumstances through meddling in a nation’s electrical system on at least one other recent occasion. As WaPo reports,
‘Cybersecurity experts say a hack in December 2015 destabilized Kiev’s power grid, causing a blackout in part of the Ukrainian capital.’
This hack has also been blamed on the Russians, although they have unsurprisingly denied the claims. On that note, WaPo adds that, on Thursday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko came out swinging against Russia’s aggression, accusing Russia “of waging a cyber war on his country that has entailed 6,500 attacks against Ukrainian state institutions over the past two months.”
It’s not immediately clear what kind of response, if any, will be issued by the U.S. There is a standing executive order that allows the president to impose sanctions against any interests that threaten the critical infrastructure of the United States, but there may not be enough names and addresses known, so to speak, to impose any sanctions before Obama leaves office.
Once Trump becomes president, it’s unlikely that any sort of harsh action will be dished out from the White House at any Russian interest whatsoever.
This news comes in the midst of a huge fallout over Russian hackers targeting the U.S. Democratic Party throughout the months prior to the election in what became a highly successful effort to undercut Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency.
UPDATE: Earlier reports were not clear as to that, while the malware code being found on a device belonging to a U.S. electric company is serious in itself, the infected device was not actively connected to the U.S. power grid.
Featured Image via Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images.