Russian hackers caused a power outage in Ukraine during the holiday season, escalating fears of the vulnerability of the U.S. electric grid to cyber attacks. Half the homes in Ukraine’s Ivano-Frankvisk region were left without power for several hours Dec. 23.
“This is the first incident we know of where an attack caused a blackout,” said John Hultquist, an iSIGHT cyberespionage executive. “It’s always been the scenario we’ve been worried about for years because it has ramifications across broad sectors. (See coverage in the Washington Post.)
Attackers used a malware that wiped files off computer systems, shutting them down and causing the blackout. The attack was described as emerging from Russia.
A silver lining is that the outage was relatively short-lived and easily fixed. I would expect that U.S. cyber-security systems are far more robust. On the other hand, it is alarming to have this confirmation that shadowy groups are actively probing the vulnerability of electric power systems anywhere. The electric grid is the most essential infrastructure in the U.S.; without it the economy would collapse and society would dissolve into anarchy. Consider the Ukraine incident a shot across the bow. Let us hope that federal authorities treat the problem with appropriate seriousness and that the political class here in Virginia does the same.
For more about what Virginia is doing to harden its grid, see “Mad Max Coming to an Electric Grid Near You?”
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