Russian hackers are reported to have successfully broken into a US electricity grid. A malware code linked to a larger campaign dubbed Grizzly Steppe by the Obama administration, has been uncovered inside systems of an electric utility in Vermont, according to a report citing US authorities.
According to unspecified sources with knowledge of the matter, the hackers did not actively use the malware to disrupt operations in any way. According to a senior administration official, the motives and end goals of the attackers remain unclear. However, authorities believe that the cyberattack may have been a dry run by Russian hackers, in efforts to determine whether the grid could be infiltrated, the Washington Post reported.
The Grizzly Steppe campaign's malware code was made privy to various sectors by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Authorities shared the code with 16 sectors nationwide, including the financial, utility and transport sectors. According to US authorities, officials at the Vermont utility were able to uncover that their internal operations had been infected by the malware and reported it to federal authorities.
The DHS and the FBI also publicly released information about the Grizzly Steppe malware and the larger campaign, as part of their joint analysis report, which officially identified Kremlin hackers using the malware as "part of an ongoing campaign of cyber-enabled operations directed at the US government and its citizens".
It is still unclear as to which utility in Vermont was targeted by the hackers. A senior official of the Obama administration, while refraining from commenting on the Washington Post's report, clarified that the administration had included in its recent sanctions against Russian hacking announcement, an alert to "all network defenders" in the US, so they could "defend against Russian malicious cyber activity," Reuters reported.
The DHS is yet to comment on the matter.
US authorities are reported to overwhelmingly hold Russia responsible for the series of cyberattacks, including the controversial (Democratic National Committee) DNC hack, which occurred during the 2016 US presidential elections.
The attacks have heightened tensions between the two nations and resulted in the Obama administration imposing new sanctions against Russia, in retaliation for the alleged election hacks. On Thursday, (29 December), President Barack Obama authorised the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats.
Following the Obama administration's move, President-elect Trump remained noncommittal on the US intelligence agencies' conclusion of Russian hacking, instead blaming computers for "complicating lives". Trump also took to Twitter to praise Russian President Vladimir Putin, writing that Putin's reaction to US sanctions was a "great move" and was "very smart".
The US, however, is not the only country to point the finger at Russia over cyberespionage activities. Recently, Russia's neighbours, including Ukraine and Lithuania raised concerns over Russian hacking activities, designed to affect financial and political aspects of their respective nations.