A Vermont utility discovered malware tied to Russian hackers in its system, it confirmed in a statement Friday night following a report by the Washington Post.
Sources told the newspaper they believed the hackers had gained access to the United States' electrical grid via an unnamed utility in Vermont. Burlington Electric later issued a statement confirming the malware was discovered on one of its computers, but noting that the device was not connected to the grid.
"Last night, U.S. utilities were alerted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of a malware code used in Grizzly Steppe, the name DHS has applied to a Russian campaign linked to recent hacks," the utility said in a statement. "We acted quickly to scan all computers in our system for the malware signature. We detected the malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop not connected to our organization’s grid systems. We took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alerted federal officials of this finding."
Burlington Electric says it is working with federal authorities to investigate how its system was penetrated and prevent future infiltration attempts. Gov. Peter Shumlin said in a release that his office has been working with other state officials and the federal government.
"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," Gov. Shumlin said. "This episode should highlight the urgent need for our federal government to vigorously pursue and put an end to this sort of Russian meddling. I call upon the federal government to conduct a full and complete investigation of this incident and undertake remedies to ensure that this never happens again."
The code was not actively used to disrupt the utility's operations, officials told the Washington Post. Those sources note that the hackers' intentions are unclear, adding that it could have been a test to see if a portion of the grid could be penetrated.
U.S. security officials believe Russia hacked the U.S. to influence the presidential election. The Obama administration has imposed sanctions against Russia, a move condemned by President-elect Donald Trump, but praised by several prominent Republicans.
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Vermont U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy says the discovery of the malware code is the latest example that state-sponsored Russian hacking is a serious threat.
Leahy, a Democrat, says he and his staff were briefed by Vermont State Police on Friday night. He says the incident goes "beyond hackers having electronic joy rides" and that trying to potentially manipulate the electric grid and shut it down is a direct threat to Vermont.