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‘Russian Malware’ Hits US Electric Company As Tensions Rise

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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A Vermont electric utility found code connected with the alleged Russian hacking campaign on its network

hacking with a laptop in hotel roomA utility in the US state of Vermont has said it discovered malware connected with Russian hackers on one of its systems, a day after president Barack Obama expelled diplomats and shuttered facilities in retaliation for alleged Russian hacking during the election.

Burlington Electric said it had found the malware on a laptop not connected to grid systems after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provided it and other utilities with the signatures of code used in Grizzly Steppe, the DHS’ term for a hacking campaign it says was organised by Russian authorities. Russia has denied involvement.

Laptop infection

“We detected the malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop not connected to our organization’s grid systems,” the utility stated.

Vermont public service commissioner Christopher Recchia added that the malware did not pose any immediate threat.

“The grid is not in danger,” he stated.

It remained unclear when the code had been placed on the computer and whether it had been intended to cause damage or was put into place as a test. Russian malware is regularly fond on the systems used by US utilities.

Politicians reacted angrily, with Peter Welch, a Democratic representative, saying in a statement Russia “will hack everywhere, even Vermont, in pursuit of opportunities to disrupt our country”.

Political tension

The utility made the announcement on Friday, a day after Obama ordered 35 Russian diplomatic personnel to leave the US and for country facilities in Maryland and New York used by Russian diplomatic personnel to be closed down.

The administration said the facilities had been used for spying, but Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations said the move was aimed at inconveniencing diplomatic staff, who use the estates for family retreats over the holidays.

“They know full well that those two facilities … they’re vacation facilities for our kids,” Vitaly Churkin told journalists.

President-elect Donald Trump has downplayed the hacking allegations and repeatedly praised Russian president Vladimir Putin during his election campaign, putting him at odds with Obama as well as with his own Republican party.

A top Trump aide said in an interview broadcast on Sunday that Obama’s actions against Russia last week may be disproportionate, pointing out that no such actions were taken against China after that country was blamed for stealing the personal data of government staff.

“The question is, is that response in proportion to the actions taken?” said Sean Spicer, the incoming presidential press secretary, on ABC’s “This Week”.

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