Russian hackers infiltrated hundreds of U.S. electric utilities

Hackers working for Russia have gained access to hundreds of U.S. electric utilities in 2017, according to new reports from federal officials.


Hackers working for Russia gained access to hundreds of U.S. electric utilities in 2017, according to new reports from federal officials.

The hackers, who worked for a Russian-sponsored group codenamed Dragonfly or Energetic Bear, managed to infiltrate the utility networks undetected, putting themselves in a position to disrupt power flows and potentially cause blackouts, officials with the Department of Homeland Security told the Wall Street Journal.

The department, which has warned of Russia’s threat to U.S. infrastructure since 2014, said the attacks are likely still occurring.

Although the utility networks were “air gapped”—meaning not directly connected to the internet—the hackers managed to infiltrate the networks of vendors who had trusted relationships with the utilities. From there, gaining access to the utilities was a straightforward process.

 

Inside the utility networks, the hackers were able to harvest other sensitive information: how the networks were configured, what equipment was used, and normal operating procedures.

“They got to the point where they could have thrown switches” and disrupted power flows, said Jonathan Homer, chief of industrial-control-system analysis for DHS.

Alarmingly, the extent of the breaches is unknown because the hackers accessed the utility networks using legitimate employee credentials, which they gathered through conventional tactics like spear-phishing emails and watering-hole attacks, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“They’ve been intruding into our networks and are positioning themselves for a limited or widespread attack,” Michael Carpenter, former deputy assistant secretary of defense, told the newspaper. “They are waging a covert war on the West.”

The motive behind the state-sponsored hacks is still unclear, though the breaches suggest Russia could be in a position to cause damage and blackouts to U.S. infrastructure.

In June, the Justice Department indicted 12 Russian nationals for their alleged “sustained effort” to hack Democrats’ emails and computer networks in the 2016 presidential election.


President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a meeting in Helsinki, on July 16, 2018. (Photo BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Electric utilities aren’t the only area of U.S. infrastructure on which Russia seems to have a strategic eye. Earlier this year, reports broke of Russian submarines lurking near the underwater cables that power the internet in the Atlantic Ocean.

In conducting the underwater operations, Russians were “doing their homework and, in the event of a crisis or conflict with them, they might do rotten things to us,” Michael Kofman, a Russian military expert at nonprofit research group CNA Corp., told the Associated Press.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.

Public Domain
Mind & Brain
  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
Keep reading Show less

If you want to spot a narcissist, look at the eyebrows

Bushier eyebrows are associated with higher levels of narcissism, according to new research.

Big Think illustration / Actor Peter Gallagher attends the 24th and final 'A Night at Sardi's' to benefit the Alzheimer's Association at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on March 9, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
popular
  • Science has provided an excellent clue for identifying the narcissists among us.
  • Eyebrows are crucial to recognizing identities.
  • The study provides insight into how we process faces and our latent ability to detect toxic people.
Keep reading Show less

Want to age gracefully? A new study says live meaningfully

Thinking your life is worthwhile is correlated with a variety of positive outcomes.

YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • A new study finds that adults who feel their lives are meaningful have better health and life outcomes.
  • Adults who felt their lives were worthwhile tended to be more social and had healthier habits.
  • The findings could be used to help improve the health of older adults.
Keep reading Show less