A security breach that plunged Ukraine into darkness could happen in the U.S., according to reports.
A recent cyber attack on Ukraine’s power utilities that plunged hundreds of cities into darkness could be replicated in the U.S., according to Obama administration officials.
Investigators concluded that highly skilled hackers stole the credentials of system operators and learned how to switch off circuit breakers, the New York Times reports.
The Ukrainian government condemned the attacks, accusing the Russians of targeting their country’s power grid as a form of political intimidation.
Department of Homeland Security report issued on Feb. 25 does not mention Russian involvement, saying only that the Ukranian power companies had been infected with so-called BlackEnergy and KillDisk malware.
The report concludes that the hackers conducted extensive surveillance of the power companies’ networks in order to gain access credentials.
Then, in a series of coordinated attacks on three facilities less than 30 minutes of each other, they used remote control systems to turn off the circuit breakers, plunging 225,000 people into darkness.
It’s a scenario that could easily happen in the U.S., and power companies have known for some time that their systems are vulnerable. Just a few days before the Dec. 23 attack in Ukraine, an Associated Press investigation found hackers had infiltrated American power systems so extensively that they could set off massive power outages whenever they want to.
Part of the reason for this vulnerability is that U.S. power utilities are largely controlled by private investors who may have little incentive to beef up security, according to the AP.
But government systems aren’t immune either, as evidenced by a recent IRS data breach that involved multiple attempts to access taxpayer accounts.
That attack was much bigger than the IRS originally thought.
An internal investigation announced last week found that more than 390,000 taxpayer accounts were compromised in addition to those previously discovered, for a total of more than 700,000 affected taxpayers.
That’s in addition to an attempt to steal more than 400,000 Social Security numbers in order to generate e-file PINs, which the IRS also announced last month.