National Security

The Other Russian Hacking — the Electrical Grid

Kremlin hackers have had access to our nation's electrical grid, and that's troublesome.

Jordan Candler · Jul. 26, 2018

It goes without saying that election meddling is hardly the only threat posed by Russian operatives. According to a new Wall Street Journal report, “Hackers working for Russia claimed ‘hundreds of victims’ last year in a giant and long-running campaign that put them inside the control rooms of U.S. electric utilities where they could have caused blackouts, federal officials said. They said the campaign likely is continuing.”

The hackers were members of a group known as Dragonfly or Energetic Bear, which is backed by the Kremlin. The Journal explains that the group “broke into supposedly secure, ‘air-gapped’ or isolated networks owned by utilities with relative ease by first penetrating the networks of key vendors who had trusted relationships with the power companies, said officials at the Department of Homeland Security.” One DHS official even stated that the hackers “got to the point where they could have thrown switches.” Translation: Portions of our nation’s utilities — which were previously flagged for inadequate security measures — were effectively in the hands of foreign enemies.

DHS began alerting utility executives to the hazards posed by these specific Russian hackers four years ago. By 2016, the Russian incursion on U.S. utilities was underway, though Russia refuses to admit culpability — which is just as believable as that nation’s pleading innocence on election meddling. Investor’s Business Daily suggests “it’s clear the U.S. needs to increase its focus on this threat.” The risk isn’t hyperbole, after all. As IBD goes on to note: “Those who think it can’t happen here need to think again. In December 2015, Russia launched an attack on Ukraine’s power grid that led to electricity outages for hundreds of thousands of people.”

Yes, election meddling is serious business and requires a forceful response. But hacking into America’s utility companies is an even more pressing and far-reaching concern — particularly when, as IBD points out, “there is no indication that [Russian meddling] had a significant impact on any election here in 2016.” Some Democrats will no doubt remain unconvinced, so in an effort to persuade them, remind them that they won’t be able to keep spewing “Russia stole the election” nonsense on national television if those same Russians end up causing blackouts. That’ll get ‘em moving.

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