Russia hacking code’ found on Vermont utility computer

An electrical company in the US state of Vermont says it has found malware code allegedly used by Russian hackers on one of its company laptops.

The Burlington Electric Department said it had taken “immediate action to isolate” the computer, which was not connected to the electrical grid. 

The government alerted them to the “Grizzly Steppe” code on Thursday.

The same day, the US expelled 35 Russian diplomats over alleged Russian interference in November’s election.

Moscow has denied any involvement in the hacking of the Democratic party and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

On Friday, US President-elect Donald Trump praisedRussian President Vladimir Putin for not expelling American diplomats in a tit-for-tat response.

Diplomatic spat goes undiplomatic

Can the hack be traced to Russia?

The Burlington company said it was “working with federal officials to trace this malware and prevent any other attempts to infiltrate utility systems”.

It has also briefed state officials and vowed to fully support the investigation.

Peter Shumlin
Image caption Peter Shumlin, Democrat governor of Vermont, said Vladimir Putin had been trying to hack the state’s power grid

The statement followed a Washington Post report, citing unnamed US officials, that Russian hackers had penetrated the electrical facility, underlining the vulnerability of America’s national grid.

According to the news website, US authorities were unclear why Russian hackers might have targeted the grid.

“The incursion may have been designed to disrupt the utility’s operations or as a test to see whether they could penetrate a portion of the grid,” it added.

‘Systemic, relentless, predatory’

Politicians in Vermont, including the Democrat Governor, Peter Shumlin, are calling for a full investigation into the incident.

“Vermonters and all Americans should be both alarmed and outraged that one of the world’s leading thugs, [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, has been attempting to hack our electric grid, which we rely upon to support our quality-of-life, economy, health, and safety,” he said in a statement.

Democratic congressman Peter Welch said the discovery showed “how rampant Russian hacking is”. 

“It’s systemic, relentless, predatory,” he added.

US officials believe Russia was behind the hacking of Ukraine’s electrical grid in December 2015, which plunged parts of the country into darkness and left about 225,000 people without power.

Experts said it was the first known power outage caused by a cyber attack.

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