News / USA

Malicious Virus Shuttered US Power Plant

Computer keyboard Computer keyboard
x
Computer keyboard
Computer keyboard
Reuters
— A computer virus attacked a turbine control system at a U.S. power company last fall when a technician unknowingly inserted an infected USB computer drive into the network, keeping a plant off line for three weeks, according to a report posted on a U.S. government website.
       
The Department of Homeland Security report did not identify the plant but said criminal software, which is used to conduct financial crimes such as identity theft, was behind the incident.
       
It was introduced by an employee of a third-party contractor that does business with the utility, according to the agency.
       
DHS reported the incident, which occurred in October, along with a second involving a more sophisticated virus, on its website as cyber experts gather at a high-profile security conference in Miami known as S4 to review emerging threats against power plants, water utilities and other parts of the critical infrastructure.
       
In addition to not identifying the plants, a DHS spokesman declined to say where they are located.
       
Interest in the area has surged since 2010 when the Stuxnet computer virus was used to attack Iran's nuclear program. Although the United States and Israel were widely believed to be behind Stuxnet, experts believe that hackers may be copying the technology to develop their own viruses.
       
Justin W. Clarke, a security researcher with a firm known as Cylance that helps protect utilities against cyber attacks, noted that experts believe Stuxnet was delivered to its target in Iran via a USB drive. Attackers use that technique to place malicious software on computer systems that are ``air gapped,'' or cut off from the public Internet.
       
``This is yet another stark reminder that even if a true 'air gap' is in place on a control network, there are still ways that malicious targeted or unintentional random infection can occur,'' he said.
       
Aging Systems       

Many critical infrastructure control systems run on Windows XP and Windows 2000, operating systems that were designed more than a decade ago. They have ``auto run'' features enabled by default, which makes them an easy target for infection because malicious software loads as soon as a USB is plugged into the system unless operators change that setting, Clarke said.
       
The Department of Homeland Security's Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergence Response Team (ICS-CERT), which helps protect critical U.S. infrastructure, described the incident in a quarterly newsletter that was accessed via its website on Wednesday.
       
The report from ICS-CERT described a second incident in which it said it had recently sent technicians to clean up computers infected by common as well as ``sophisticated'' viruses on workstations that were critical to the operations of a power generation facility.
       
The report did not say who the agency believed was behind the sophisticated virus or if it was capable of sabotage. DHS uses the term "sophisticated'' to describe a wide variety of malicious software that is designed to do things besides commit routine cyber crimes. They include viruses capable of espionage and sabotage.
       
A DHS spokesman could not immediately be reached to comment on the report.
       
The Department of Homeland Security almost never identifies critical infrastructure operators that are hit by viruses, or even their locations, but it does provide statistics.
       
It said ICS-CERT responded to 198 cyber incidents reported by energy companies, public water districts and other infrastructure facilities in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2012.
       
Attacks against the energy sector represented 41 percent of the total number of incidents in fiscal 2012. According to the report, ICS-CERT helped 23 oil and natural gas sector organizations after they were hit by a targeted spear-phishing campaign - when emails with malicious content are specifically targeted at their employees.
       
The water sector had the second highest number of incidents,
 representing 15 percent.

You May Like

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Timur Tyncherov
January 23, 2013 9:50 AM
Laugh and cry at the same time. Any half-competent sysadmin would not allow the auto-run feature to be enabled on the control network of a critical infrastructure facility. And any competent sysadmin would set up the access rights in a way that prevents “an employee of a third-party contractor” from running the malicious software on a critical workstation. And yes, it IS possible even on Windows XP/2000.


by: Christopher Hobe Morrison from: Pine Bush, NY, USA
January 16, 2013 9:39 PM
Uhhhh, computers not connected to the internet to prevent them from being infected, and somebody inserted an infected USB into the computer?

Didn't somebody run a check on something that was going to be used like that? Are outside people allowed to do things that might result in that sort of thing happening?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid