Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ex-Spy Chief: Ukrainian Cyberattack a Warning Sign for US Utilities

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ex-Spy Chief: Ukrainian Cyberattack a Warning Sign for US Utilities

Article excerpt

Former National Security Agency chief Gen. Michael Hayden warned that a recent malware attack on the Ukrainian power grid is yet another troubling sign that the US electric supply is vulnerable to hackers.

The Dec. 23 attack on utilities serving the Ivano-Frankivsk region of Ukraine appears to be the second confirmed incident of a computer-based attack to damage physical infrastructure. The attack led to blackouts throughout the region for several hours before power was restored. The Stuxnet worm that targeted the Iranian nuclear program is the only other such incident.

What happened in Ukraine is a harbinger for the kinds of cyberthreats the US faces, possibly from rival nations such as Russia and North Korea, the retired Air Force general told a crowd of critical infrastructure experts at the S4x16 security conference in Miami. General Hayden served as director of the NSA from 1999 to 2005 and served as CIA chief from 2006 to 2009.

"There a darkening sky," he told reporters after his speech Tuesday, referring to the increasing threat of malware infections leading to physical damages. "This is another data point on an arc that we've long predicted," he said, acknowledging that the Ukraine attack reinforces concerns in official circles about security of the American power grid.

What's more, he said, if early analysis of malware discovered at the Ukrainian facility that links it to Russia is accurate, the incident foreshadows a troubling uptick in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia over the disputed Crimea region.

The Department of Homeland Security has acknowledged that a version of the BlackEnergy program linked to the Ukraine attack has been discovered in US facilities. Hayden said that the link was troubling. "If they have a presence on the grid [with BlackEnergy] then they have already achieved what they need to carry out a destructive attack."

Analysis of the malware recovered from the Ukrainian facility conducted by the security firm iSight Partners and SANS Institute revealed that a variant of BlackEnergy, dubbed "BlackEnergy3," was present in the compromised utilities. …

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