If Russian hackers are fiddling around with America’s electricity grid, then that would be extremely alarming. It is also what was reported by the Washington Post on the heels of the Obama Administration announcing sanctions against Russia for interfering in a US election.
The original headline read, “Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont, U.S. officials say.” The Washington Post reported, “A code associated with the Russian hacking operation dubbed Grizzly Steppe by the Obama administration has been detected within the system of a Vermont utility, according to U.S. officials.”
The article went on to cite unnamed national security officials, including one who said that although “Russians did not actively use the code to disrupt operations of the utility,” the “penetration of the nation’s electrical grid is significant because it represents a potentially serious vulnerability.”
So purportedly hacking the election (pdf) wasn’t enough and the Russians are hacking our grid now? News agencies citing anonymous national security officials as sources is common and it’s no secret that US infrastructure has been horribly vulnerable for years. The news created a frenzy, with numerous politicians pinging in with dire warnings.
That might be expected, except that the article was incorrect. So incorrect that not even two hours later, the Burlington Electric Department issued a formal statement which included: “We detected the malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop not connected to our organization’s grid systems.”
Social media exploded over the “fake news” and various news outlets started picking the “facts” apart. The Washington Post later made changes, one revision claimed multiple “computers” had been infected with malicious code, although that version bit the dust shortly afterwards.
Eventually the Post settled on a final version and finally added an editorial note: “An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. electric grid. Authorities say there is no indication of that so far. The computer at Burlington Electric that was hacked was not attached to the grid.”
It would be nice to know how the malware used in Grizzly Steppe ended up on a laptop that isn’t connected online. Are Fancy Bear or Cozy Bear – which are dubbed as APT28 and APT29 by the feds – responsible? DHS warned utilities to scan for the malware. Is one laptop at one utility all that was found to be infected? If the malware developed by the Russians can be purchased, then couldn’t someone else be responsible for putting it on the laptop?
President-elect Donald Trump might know and said he plans to continuing using Twitter to keep Americans informed; he even recently tweeted praise for Russian leader Valdimir Putin. At a New Year’s Eve celebration, Trump claimed that he knew “things that other people don’t know” and would reveal new details about the alleged Russian hacking later this week. He added that he knows “a lot” about hacking and that it is a “very hard thing to prove.”
Incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer hit the brakes on that promise, saying Trump won’t actually reveal anything explosive. Spicer said on CNN, “He’s going to talk about his conclusions and where he thinks things stand. He’s not going to reveal anything that was privileged or was shared with him classified. I think he can share with people his conclusions of the report and his understanding of the situation and make sure people understand there’s a lot of questions out there.”
Trump has also suggested that “very important” information should be written out and “delivered by courier, the old fashioned way because I'll tell you what, no computer is safe.” Apparently his 10-year son “can do anything with a computer,” so if “you want something to really go without detection, write it out and have it sent by courier.” To the go extra mile, he should consider using vanishing ink. Maybe Putin can fix him up since the KGB developed a disappearing ink pen during the Cold War era?