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A Cyberattack Finally Has Hit A Major Power Grid, And It Did Exactly What We Feared

A Cyberattack Finally Has Hit A Major Power Grid, And It Did What We Feared

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A widely feared nightmare scenario has finally occurred, although in another country — hackers were able to cause a widespread power failure in the Ukraine by infecting utilities’ computers with malware.

It is the first time a cyberattack has caused a widespread blackout anywhere in the world.

Half of the homes in the Ivano-Frankivsk region of the Ukraine lost electricity because of a malicious software program called Black Energy.

“It’s a milestone because we’ve definitely seen targeted destructive events against energy before — oil firms, for instance — but never the event which causes the blackout,” John Hultquist of the cybersecurity firm iSIGHT told Ars Technica. “It’s the major scenario we’ve all been concerned about for so long.”

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Ukrainians lost power Dec. 23 after computers at three different utilities were infected with Black Energy. The program caused the blackout by somehow disconnecting a number of substations from the grid.

“This is the first time we have proof and can tie malware to a particular outage,” Trend Micro senior researcher Kyle Wilhoit told Reuters. “It is pretty scary.”

Black Energy

Experts at iSIGHT and antivirus company ESET identified an updated version of Black Energy, a malware that’s been around since 2007, as the cause of the blackout. The researchers said Black Energy apparently contains an updated component called KillDisk that can shut down industrial control systems.

KillDisk is a Trojan that embeds itself inside computer controlled equipment. Once there, it can either serve as a gateway to let hackers take control of the system or insert malicious code which sabotages the equipment. Some versions of KillDisk have the ability to destroy hard drives and other computer components.

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Black Energy has been targeting various targets in the Ukraine, including media outlets, for about a year, Ars Technica reported. Black Energy is a particularly terrifying weapon because it enters systems through infected Microsoft Office documents.

The Sandworm Gang

Cybersecurity experts think a mysterious group of hackers that iSIGHT has dubbed the Sandworm Gang is behind Black Energy. Nobody knows where the Sandworm Gang is located, but iSIGHT suspects that they are Russians or have ties to the Russian government.

This is not the first time that hackers have infected a utility. In 2012, someone infected Saudi Arabia’s largest natural gas producer with malware.

Experts including Ted Koppel think it is only a matter of time before something like Black Energy targets America’s power grid. Koppel says such a cyberattack could knock out the US and Canadian power grids for weeks or months and lead to mass starvation in North America.

What is your reaction to the cyberattack, and do you think such an attack in the US is inevitable? Share your opinion in the section below:

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  1. Of course an attack is inevitable. Under the current administration, anything is possible.

  2. The attack was actually much worse than is indicated here. It was a coordinated multi-pronged attack. The hackers were able to remotely shut off key breakers that disconnected the substations involved. This shut down was followed quickly by the introduction of malware which essentially erased the software responsible for starting things back up. At the same time, a denial of service order was inserted into the telecom system which made it impossible for customers to call in reports of outages, which hindered efforts to isolate and address the issues in effected areas.

    Very slick, very professional, very well executed, and totally scary as sh….. you get it.

    • Thanks for the informative post.

    • Heard all about the power outage and what caused it… I want to hear about what the people did to survive while the power was out.

      • They are Yukes – Ukrainians – most are pretty tough, though I know some former soldiers that are some of the toughest in the world. After Stalin and the Communists… Ukrainians are some hardy folks… I’m sure they took the blackout in stride. Unlike our nation of pampered wussies that whine about everything and are without any real skills. Texting is not a skill

        • Scott is 100% correct. They’ve had to be tuff a nails.

          My family by marriage live in Russia and Ukraine. Electronics and electricity are nice to have but the Slavic speaking Nations are not nearly as dependent on what we in America comprehend as a “need”. Credit cards for example are rarely accepted.. even in Kiev, Moscow, and Saint Petersburg Western hotels will accept cards but even then not nearly at the access levels as in the States or similar.
          Outside of the large cities mention payment with plastic and you’ll get a blank stare and sometimes a muted comment, and not a favorable comment. Family is a support net as well as close friends. Friendships in the CIS and Ukraine run deep. What is the foundation is our common faith within the church. Orthodoxy has existed for a decade or two less than two millennia. No electricity required! In these terms what was lost in the States is still present in the foundations of Rus.
          Renting a car is in cash, buying a house or a car is expected in cash. Bank loans are not usually part of the scene for big ticket items.
          What I have to keep in mind is living here means it is on these topics as living the 1950’s in the United States, then I respond mentally in a functional way.

          I had to laugh a bit about Txt being a skill. Great point well taken. I’ve see very few on the Moscow metros with “muscular thumbs”. Also hardly ever see any fat Russians or Ukrainians even in great economic times. Gymnasium means your still in school…not trying to keep fitness.

  3. So, they were using Windows right? Infection though Microsoft Offiee documents. Therein lies your answer.

  4. Listen, if there’s ever a massive long term poweroutage, the power company, FEMA or the Redcross are not going to save us. You need to set up a DIY solar power system now. I have 90 watts that i run my tv and LiED lighting every night. This small system from Harbor Freight works for me. But do your homework before you buy.

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