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States re-examine cybersecurity after malware found linked to Russian hackers

Published Jan. 1, 2017

BURLINGTON, Vt. —Several states around the country on Saturday asked cybersecurity experts to re-examine state and utility networks after a Vermont utility's laptop was found to contain malware that U.S. officials say is linked to Russian hackers.

The Burlington Electric Department, one of Vermont's two largest electric utilities, confirmed Friday it had found on one of its laptops the malware code used in Grizzly Steppe, the name the U.S. government has given to malicious cyber activity by Russian civilian and military intelligence services.

A Burlington Electric spokesman said federal officials have told company officials the threat was not unique to them.

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security would not say whether any other utilities, organizations or entities had reported similar malware on their systems after the report. The official said such information would be confidential.

Officials in New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut said they are more closely monitoring state and utility networks.

"We specifically have been looking for signatures that match those reported last week by DHS and the FBI related to Russian actors," Connecticut governor's office spokesman Chris Collibee said. "We have not detected any activity matching the reported malware at this time."

An attack on a U.S. power grid has long been a nightmare scenario for top U.S. officials. The National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command chief Adm. Michael Rogers have previously warned it's not a matter of if but when attackers would do so.

Democratic Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said his administration has been in touch with the federal government and the state's utilities. He said people should be "alarmed and outraged" that Russia "has been attempting to hack our electric grid, which we rely upon to support our quality-of-life, economy, health and safety."

Burlington Electric noted it wasn't connected to the grid system and didn't explain how the malware got onto the computer.

The company said U.S. government authorities alerted American utilities about the malware code Thursday in a report released when President Barack Obama announced the U.S. response to election hacking. Obama ordered sanctions on Russian intelligence agencies, closed two Russian compounds and expelled 35 diplomats the U.S. said were really spies.

A Russian state television channel on Saturday sought to discredit reports linking the malware to the Kremlin.

The Washington Post first reported on the Vermont malware discovery.

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