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US: Russian Malware Found on Utility's Computer Did Not Penetrate Power Grid

  • Ken Bredemeier

The Burlington Electric Department says it has found malware linked to Grizzly Steppe, the Homeland Security name for the Russian campaign linked to recent hacks.

U.S. officials say they have no information that a power grid in the northeastern state of Vermont was penetrated, even as they continue to investigate suspected Russian malware found on a utility's laptop computer.

The Department of Homeland Security said late New Year's Eve that the laptop was not connected to the electrical grid operated by the Burlington Electric Department. The U.S. agency said the utility "took immediate action to isolate the laptop" after finding the malware code used in Grizzly Steppe, the name U.S. authorities have given to suspected malicious Russian computer intrusions.

The discovery of the malware sparked concern in the U.S. about the vulnerability of its key infrastructure operations. The Homeland Security officials declined to say whether other utilities or groups had reported finding similar malware on their systems, but said such information would be confidential.

Infrastructure security concerns

The Vermont incident prompted several U.S. states to have cybersecurity officials re-examine their utility networks to make sure they are free of malware that could affect their electrical grids, but there were no immediate reports of problems.

U.S. congressman Peter Welch said Russian hackers' malware found in Vermont was evidence of "rampant Russian hacking," but President-elect Donald Trump says such charges should be investigated carefully.

FILE - Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., pictured on Capitol Hill in March 2015, says the malware discovery by a Vermont electric utility further proved that Russian computer hacking has been "systematic, relentless and predatory."
FILE - Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., pictured on Capitol Hill in March 2015, says the malware discovery by a Vermont electric utility further proved that Russian computer hacking has been "systematic, relentless and predatory."

Welch said the discovery proves that Russian computer hacking of U.S. networks is "systematic, relentless and predatory."

"They will hack everywhere, even Vermont, in pursuit of opportunities to disrupt our country," Welch said. His statement came as criticism of Russian cyberspying escalated and support broadened for sanctions President Barack Obama has imposed on Moscow.

But Trump, who assumes power January 20, continued to cast doubt on the spy allegations, saying he wants U.S. intelligence agencies to be certain of their conclusions "because it's a pretty serious charge" against Russia.

Trump said he knows more information about the extent of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election through computer breaches than has been made public and plans to disclose it in the coming days.

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