Sunday 1 January 2017

US-Russia Tensions Are At Paramount As Malware Found At Vermont Electric Utility


A day after Barack Obama announced tough new sanctions over what intelligence agencies believe to be Russian attempts to influence the presidential election in favour of Donald Trump, US officials said computer code linked to Russian-sponsored hackers had been detected in a computer at a Vermont electric utility.

The municipally run Burlington electric department confirmed on Friday that it had found, in a laptop not connected to grid systems, malware code used in Grizzly Steppe, the name the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and FBI have applied to a Russian campaign linked to cyber-attacks on the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations.

The Washington Post first reported the discovery.

On Thursday, the day on which Obama announced the new sanctions, the DHS and the FBI published a report detailing what they called Russia’s “ongoing campaign of cyber-enabled operations directed at the US government and its citizens”.

After the discovery in Vermont, however, officials said they did not know when the code was placed in the laptop computer or what the intentions behind it may have been. Russian malware is regularly found inside computers used by US utilities.

Vermont Democrats reacted strongly. The state’s governor, Peter Shumlin, said in a statement: “Vermonters and all Americans should be both alarmed and outraged that one of the world’s leading thugs, Vladimir Putin, has been attempting to hack our electric grid, which we rely upon to support our quality of life, economy, health, and safety.”

Peter Welch, a US representative, said Russian hacking was “rampant… systemic, relentless, predatory” and added: “They will hack everywhere, even Vermont, in pursuit of opportunities to disrupt our country.”

The FBI and DHS report appeared to confirm one aspect of the Russian hacking programme: the gaining of access to Democratic party emails through the use of fraudulent emails that tricked recipients into revealing passwords. Such emails were released by WikiLeaks during the election, to the perceived disadvantage of the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton.

The reports from Vermont came at the end of a tense week in US-Russian relations that also placed the Obama White House and the incoming Trump administration further at odds with each other.

On Thursday, Obama ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomatic personnel and the closure of country estates in Maryland and New York used by embassy staff.



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