Hackers take down power grid in Ukraine in a troubling sign of things to come

posted at 10:41 am on January 5, 2016 by Jazz Shaw

Just last month we looked at an instance where hackers, possibly of Russian origin, briefly took control of computer systems at a hydroelectric dam in New York. That’s a worrisome development to be sure, but it was hardly an isolated incident. This week we learned that a far more effective attack took place around Christmas in the Ukraine. Hackers knocked out the power to a broad area in the middle of some brutal winter conditions and once again the Russians are suspected as the source. (Forbes)

Just before Christmas, power went out across western Ukraine. Soon after, the energy ministry confirmed it was exploring claims a cyber attack disrupted local energy provider Prykarpattyaoblenergo, causing blackouts across the Ivano-Frankivsk region on 23 December. The SBU state intelligence service said Russian attempts to disrupt the country’s power grid had been deflected, but did not comment on any specific attack.

The details were patchy. But today, the Computer Emergency Response Team of Ukraine – CERT-UA – told FORBES the outages were caused by an attack. National CERTs are in charge of coordinating responses to and investigations into cyber attacks. Eugene Bryksin, a member of the government organization, said it was working with Prykarpattyaoblenergo on the investigation but could provide no information other than to confirm the accuracy of the reports.

ARS Techica has some of the geek oriented details and the picture isn’t a pretty one.

Researchers from antivirus provider ESET have confirmed that multiple Ukrainian power authorities were infected by “BlackEnergy,” a package discovered in 2007 that was updated two years ago to include a host of new functions, including the ability to render infected computers unbootable. More recently, ESET found, the malware was updated again to add a component dubbed KillDisk, which destroys critical parts of a computer hard drive and also appears to have functions that sabotage industrial control systems. The latest BlackEnergy also includes a backdoored secure shell (SSH) utility that gives attackers permanent access to infected computers.

Until now, BlackEnergy has mainly been used to conduct espionage on targets in news organizations, power companies, and other industrial groups. While ESET stopped short of saying the BlackEnergy infections hitting the power companies were responsible for last week’s outage, the company left little doubt that one or more of the BlackEnergy components had that capability.

Intelligence agencies have dubbed the group suspected to be behind the development of BlackEnergy as “the Sandworm gang” and they’ve been a busy organization indeed. Their list of previous targets includes NATO, several eastern European government computer systems and major industrial corporations. Their malware transmission methods sound frighteningly simple, including the use of infected Microsoft Office documents which unwitting utility operators open without realizing that they’ve just given control of the power grid to the hackers.

This should serve as yet another wake up call in the United States. We’ve now seen a real life demonstration of malicious hackers taking down the power grid and endangering the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. While it might be comforting to think that Ukraine is some sort of backwards nation technologically and that America must be safer, it’s sadly not true. Business Insider reported on this problem last October and the results of their investigation showed that our own grid is complex, but broken up into competing regions controlled by a large number of players who don’t cooperate with each other very much and are unwilling to invest the money to make the system more secure. What happened in Ukraine could just as easily happen in the United States and the power could be out for a significant amount of time.

Remember… winter isn’t coming. It’s already here.

power lines


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Comments

Smart Power is unsafe power.

Constitutionalist on January 5, 2016 at 10:43 AM

Obama would approve of taking down the US power grid.

Let those angry Americans see what it like to live in Crapiatan for a while.

txdoc on January 5, 2016 at 10:45 AM

I’m sure there will be a lot of people saying “That will never happen in the US.”

Like hyperinflation.

LoganSix on January 5, 2016 at 10:46 AM

Why are utilities hooked up to the internet.

RickB on January 5, 2016 at 10:46 AM

If it worked that well or that easily, we’d all be in the dark.

aniptofar on January 5, 2016 at 10:47 AM

Why are utilities hooked up to the internet.

RickB on January 5, 2016 at 10:46 AM

So that American jobs can be outsourced to India.

ConstantineXI on January 5, 2016 at 10:48 AM

Google Translate translates “Prykarpattyaoblenergo” as “that shocking stuff.”

Walter L. Newton on January 5, 2016 at 10:51 AM

So that American jobs can be outsourced to India.

ConstantineXI on January 5, 2016 at 10:48 AM

I actually know of a architect losing his job, because they are replacing the Americans with Filipinos, and he works in LA.

Thank you, H-1B American congress traitors. We need to H-1B congress.

Oil Can on January 5, 2016 at 10:53 AM

Why is it so difficult to find the people responsible? At the end of the day there’s always an IP address.

If they could find just one of these clowns, execute him publicly, and threaten to do the same to anyone that does anything like this I guarantee it’ll stop….

Hank_Scorpio on January 5, 2016 at 10:59 AM

So that American jobs can be outsourced to India.

ConstantineXI on January 5, 2016 at 10:48 AM

It has to be accessible to reroute power as needed based upon access to power and needs for power across wide areas of the grid. Instead of using a dedicated service, they go the cheap route of using existing infrastructure, the internet. More and more places have to have this switching ability due to small and intermittent renewable energy sources. Global Warming Scam is making us more vulnerable to brownouts and blackouts, but also sabotage. Unless you can give me instances where this is outsourced to India, I do not believe it.

Constitutionalist on January 5, 2016 at 11:02 AM

We need to H-1B congress.

Oil Can on January 5, 2016 at 10:53 AM

This would help:

http://archivarix.blogspot.com/2009/07/congress-votes-to-outsource-presidency.html

Rix on January 5, 2016 at 11:04 AM

Remember… winter isn’t coming. It’s already here.

and it’s going to be a long one . . .

greencalliope on January 5, 2016 at 11:08 AM

“Prykarpattyaoblenergo.”

Sounds racist.

Galtian on January 5, 2016 at 11:08 AM

and it’s going to be a long one . . .

greencalliope on January 5, 2016 at 11:08 AM

You’re more correct than you think. Read “The Long Winter” by John Christopher, it’s surprisingly prophetic.

Rix on January 5, 2016 at 11:10 AM

“Prykarpattyaoblenergo.”

Sounds racist.

Galtian on January 5, 2016 at 11:08 AM

A noble Negro?

Bat Chain Puller on January 5, 2016 at 11:16 AM

well there’s another one of mine that went to moderation hell.

Bat Chain Puller on January 5, 2016 at 11:18 AM

NERC has a critical infrastructure protection program that has huge penalties for any US electric utilities that do not meet stringent technical requirements on tight timetables.

The authors of these articles and the HotGas commentariat seem ignorant of what is actually going on in the US in this area.

widget on January 5, 2016 at 11:24 AM

https://www.numbersusa.com/news/members-congress-and-union-rally-support-workers-laid-h-1b-hires

Southern California Edison has brought in the Desi Slumdogs to replace their Americans.

ConstantineXI on January 5, 2016 at 11:28 AM

You’re more correct than you think. Read “The Long Winter” by John Christopher, it’s surprisingly prophetic.

Rix on January 5, 2016 at 11:10 AM

Sounds like a retarded book. The reason whites are successful is due to culture. No matter where they show up, unless they are directly subjugated, they will create prosperity. Nothing stops any other race from accomplishing the same, all it takes is taking up the right culture.

Oh god, when whites move to a black nation, they become peasants! LOL, only if they were peasants at the place they left.

Constitutionalist on January 5, 2016 at 11:29 AM

Southern California Edison has brought in the Desi Slumdogs to replace their Americans.

ConstantineXI on January 5, 2016 at 11:28 AM

Quite different than outsourcing to India. But disgusting none the less.

Constitutionalist on January 5, 2016 at 11:32 AM

If all or most of the systems are run locally, that means it would be MORE difficult for a cyberterrorist to knock out the whole country, or even a good chunk of it. It would require a serious amount of planning and coordination. A city would be more vulnerable, but the nation would be less so.

One big system controlled by one big institution, like the Feds, would be much more vulnerable as a whole.

RockinRickOwen on January 5, 2016 at 11:32 AM

Remember… winter isn’t coming. The Rooskie Mafia Spring is here. But thank allah it wasn’t islamists!

locomotivebreath1901 on January 5, 2016 at 11:37 AM

Sounds like a retarded book. The reason whites are successful is due to culture. No matter where they show up, unless they are directly subjugated, they will create prosperity. Nothing stops any other race from accomplishing the same, all it takes is taking up the right culture.

Oh god, when whites move to a black nation, they become peasants! LOL, only if they were peasants at the place they left.

Constitutionalist on January 5, 2016 at 11:29 AM

Just read the book. for those unfamiliar with how things worked in South Africa after the end of apartheid, it gives a stunningly clear picture of what lies ahead for the culture of the West if its people continue to bend knee to the multikulti idol.

Rix on January 5, 2016 at 11:39 AM

Quite different than outsourcing to India. But disgusting none the less.

Constitutionalist on January 5, 2016 at 11:32 AM

Slumdogs being shipped in from India via H-1B is even WORSE than outsourcing. Because they only send the worst dregs of the untouchable caste to America.

ConstantineXI on January 5, 2016 at 11:41 AM

Putin is behind this

jp on January 5, 2016 at 11:41 AM

Slumdogs being shipped in from India via H-1B is even WORSE than outsourcing. Because they only send the worst dregs of the untouchable caste to America.

ConstantineXI on January 5, 2016 at 11:41 AM

Well, I guess we know your stance here. Although from a security standpoint, you are way off base.
It is really sad, it seems almost every topic I see you in these days, you seem to have changed for the worse. Well, maybe life is just not treating you well these days. I hope to see you go back to your old self which seemed much more rational.

Constitutionalist on January 5, 2016 at 12:02 PM

Trial run.

Kissmygrits on January 5, 2016 at 1:24 PM

Decentralize the power grid.

It makes utilities an unworthy target for hackers.

Turtle317 on January 5, 2016 at 1:28 PM

Call me crazy but, in 1960 it was IMPOSSIBLE to cripple our power grid by computer.
It COULD NOT be Hacked.
Couldn’t happen.
No Way.
Why not UNPLUG from the Internet every critical system; Electricity, Water, Sewage Systems, Dams, Natural Gas, you get the drift.
Nothing can happen unless a human being physically turns the switch, closes the valve, pulls the lever.
That would cost millions you say?
I’d call that Cheap.

thelastminstrel on January 5, 2016 at 2:29 PM

You’re more correct than you think. Read “The Long Winter” by John Christopher, it’s surprisingly prophetic.

Rix on January 5, 2016 at 11:10 AM

sounds very interesting, I’ll put it on hold from my library. I think I’ve also heard my local radio host talk about it, because the author and title sound vaguely familiar.

greencalliope on January 5, 2016 at 4:12 PM

Hackers take down power grid in Ukraine in a troubling sign of things to come

As I’ve pointed out many times, people owning rifles is no threat to the government, people knowing how to hack is. So if you are serious about the 2nd amendment as a check against tyranny, rather than just a gun fetishist, this is the rout to go.

Tlaloc on January 5, 2016 at 4:49 PM

Why is it so difficult to find the people responsible? At the end of the day there’s always an IP address.

If they could find just one of these clowns, execute him publicly, and threaten to do the same to anyone that does anything like this I guarantee it’ll stop….

Hank_Scorpio on January 5, 2016 at 10:59 AM

IP spoofing is very common and trivial to do. What’s more most hacks these days are done by people using compromised machines to the dirty work, so the IP address leads you back to some grandma in Muncie IN who opened an email that said “YOU JUST WON OUR GRANDPRIZE!”

Basically the Internet was designed with no concept of security for a few reasons we can get into if you really want. They have tried to tack it on afterwards but that never works well.

Tlaloc on January 5, 2016 at 4:54 PM

Decentralize the power grid.

It makes utilities an unworthy target for hackers.

Turtle317 on January 5, 2016 at 1:28 PM

Yes, going to small scale, ubiquitous, local power generation solves a number of problems, actually.

Tlaloc on January 5, 2016 at 4:57 PM

Call me crazy but, in 1960 it was IMPOSSIBLE to cripple our power grid by computer.
It COULD NOT be Hacked.
Couldn’t happen.
No Way.
Why not UNPLUG from the Internet every critical system; Electricity, Water, Sewage Systems, Dams, Natural Gas, you get the drift.
Nothing can happen unless a human being physically turns the switch, closes the valve, pulls the lever.
That would cost millions you say?
I’d call that Cheap.

thelastminstrel on January 5, 2016 at 2:29 PM

It’d also make it impossible for our infrastructure to react in any kind of reasonable time frame to changing conditions. Right now the systems can mitigate brown- and blackout conditions. If you require a human being to press buttons that functionality is not feasible.

Tlaloc on January 5, 2016 at 4:59 PM

It’d also make it impossible for our infrastructure to react in any kind of reasonable time frame to changing conditions. Right now the systems can mitigate brown- and blackout conditions. If you require a human being to press buttons that functionality is not feasible.

Tlaloc on January 5, 2016 at 4:59 PM

Your assertion is only true if you believe that the power system should have no excess regionally-deployed capacity and should be centrally controlled.

But if you believe that system reliability should be the top priority, this type of power system design is grossly inadequate to the point of being suicidal. Central control turns attacks and/or accidents into massive catastrophes. And since nearly everything in the modern world depends upon a reliable and inexhaustible supply of electricity, we cannot afford the prospect of the massive and widespread shutdown of grocery stores, all commercial and residential heating and cooling systems, virtually all commercial transportation, and grocery stores: such an event would kill many thousands, if not hundreds of thousands.

The US power system, along with the rest of our vital infrastructure, needs a complete overhaul before thousands of people are killed by this foolish and fragile structure which has been pushed upon the nation by liberals who think they can solve problems with fond wishes and magical unicorns and who don’t care about real-world consequences of their pipe dreams.

Besides a complete do-over of our obviously-flawed grid control, we need massive and distributed power plant redundancy based on a thorough mix of coal, gas, nuclear, hydroelectric, and other “real” power generation methods. All government subsidies for the laughably feeble, fragile, and silly “solar” and “wind” generators should be immediately redirected toward a real, robust, multiply-redundant and super-reliable power system.

landlines on January 5, 2016 at 11:57 PM

I actually know of a architect losing his job, because they are replacing the Americans with Filipinos, and he works in LA.

Thank you, H-1B American congress traitors. We need to H-1B congress.

Oil Can on January 5, 2016 at 10:53 AM

So you’re going to let the companies that hire these foreigners off Scot free?

Congress does what they’re paid to do. Companies do what is most profitable for them, including axing jobs and shutting down facilities. This century-old love affair we have with Big Business is coming to an end…except for the most stubborn it would seem.

Dr. ZhivBlago on January 6, 2016 at 2:18 AM