Recently reports of Russian hackers penetrating U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont went viral, much before the investigation into the case could begin.
The investigation by officials began on December 30, when the Vermont utility reported its alert to federal authorities some of whom told The Washington Post that code associated with the Russian hackers, dubbed as ‘Grizzly Steppe’ by the Obama administration, had been discovered within the system of an unnamed Vermont utility but later that evening, the Burlington Electric released a statement identifying itself as the utility in question and saying the firm had “detected the malware” in a single laptop. The company said in its statement that the laptop was not connected to its grid systems.
The Post also immediately made corrections to its article and added an editor’s note explaining the change but not before other media outlets too, spread the news like a fire across the world.
An anonymous official disclosed that Russians did not actively use the code to disrupt utility operations. Initially, the broad list of internet addresses led Burlington Electric to believe that a compromised laptop was the victim of a Russian attack. However, upon further investigation, it appeared to have been infected by a common hacker toolkit not connected to the Russian attacks. Many users use Tor internet anonymity service. A list of pseudonyms for the attackers included “Powershell backdoor,” which is a type of attack, not a specific attacker group.
U.S. officials are continuing to investigate the laptop. In the course of their investigation, though, they have found on the device a package of software tools commonly used by online criminals to deliver malware. The package, known as Neutrino, does not appear to be connected with Grizzly Steppe, which U.S. officials have identified as the Russian hacking operation. The FBI is continuing to investigate how the malware got onto the laptop.
The latest report has at least temporarily put to bed a news story that rankled many in the security community, including the most fervent believers that the Democratic National Committee was hacked by the Russians and underlines problems many have with a joint Homeland Security.
The penetration of the nation’s electrical grid is significant because it represents a potentially serious vulnerability. Government and utility industry officials regularly monitor the nation’s electrical grid because it is highly computerised and any disruptions can have disastrous implications for the function of medical and emergency services.
Such incidents illustrate how effectively false and misleading news can ricochet through the global news echo chamber through the pages of top-tier newspapers that fail to properly verify their facts.