Computer code connected to Russian cyberattacks by US intelligence agencies has been found in a laptop computer at Burlington Electric Department, a Vermont utility. The discovery was made public a day after the Obama administration imposed sanctions on Russia in a reprisal for hacking during the US presidential election.
The laptop wasn’t connected to the power grid at the time, Burlington stated. It said it scanned its computer network and found the malware after the US Department of Homeland Security sent out an alert about the code to owners and operators of critical infrastructure.
“Our team is working with federal officials to trace this malware and prevent any other attempts to infiltrate utility systems. We have briefed state officials and will support the investigation fully” said Burlington spokesman Mike Kanarick.
Such a breach has been a longstanding concern in the USA because of the obvious damage that disruption of a power grid and associated emergency services could cause. For that reason, computers at utilities are routinely checked for intrusions.
US intelligence agencies have identified the code that the utility found as one used in what they call operation ‘Grizzly Steppe’ a far-reaching Russian operation to interfere with November’s presidential election. Homeland Security confirmed that it shared technical information with owners of critical US infrastructure to aid them in identifying Grizzly Steppe code.
It’s not the first time Russia has been linked to a cyber attack on a utility. Hackers broke into computers at a utility control centre in western Ukraine in December 2014 and shut down substations throughout the region. US Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain, a Republican senator from Arizona, accused Russia of being behind the attack.
According to UK newspaper The Guardian senator McCain passed documents to the FBI director, James Comey, in December, alleging secret contacts between the Trump campaign and Moscow and that Russian intelligence had in its possession compromising material about the president-elect himself. The material is a series of reports on Trump’s relationship with Moscow. They were drawn up by a former western counter-intelligence official, now working as a private consultant. However, The Guardian has not been able to confirm the veracity of the documents’ contents, and the Trump team has consistently denied any hidden contacts with the Russian government.