Another Russian Hack …

A year or so ago, I read a novel by William Forstchen titled One Second After.  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it … especially if you sleep too well at night and need something to keep you awake in the wee hours.  The premise of the novel is that an EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse) has occurred somewhere over the heartland of the U.S., shutting down power grids and plunging the nation into darkness and chaos.  It was a disturbing book, especially so when one considers that the technology exists for that very thing to happen.

Yesterday, after President Obama announced sanctions against the Russian government, the municipally run Burlington electric department found, in a laptop not connected to grid systems, malware code used by the Russian campaign linked to cyber-attacks on the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations. This discovery underscores the vulnerability of our electrical grids and the fact that Russian government hackers have the capability of penetrating those grids.

Many may think, on reading about this latest discovery, that it would be horrible to be without electricity for a “few days”.  I remember a week in September 2008, when after a wind storm our electricity was out for several days, and like most humans, I bitched, whined and complained, but all in all it wasn’t the end of the world.  Temperatures were moderate, we had plenty of food that did not require cooking, and looking back, it was rather an adventure.  But what the compromise of an entire electrical grid, or multiple grids, would bring is something altogether different.

If hackers were to knock out 100 strategically chosen generators in the Northeast, for example, the damaged power grid would quickly overload, causing a cascade of secondary outages across multiple states. While some areas could recover quickly, others might be without power for weeks. Imagine, if you can:  Stores are closed. Cell service is failing. Broadband Internet is gone. Hospitals are operating on generators, but rapidly running out of fuel. Garbage is rotting in the streets, and clean water is scarce as people boil water stored in bathtubs to stop the spread of bacteria. And escape? There is none, because planes can’t fly, trains can’t run, and gas stations can’t pump fuel.

I am not an alarmist, and I think there are good reasons that neither Russia nor China, both of whom have proven the capability of such hacking, will refrain from using their capabilities to create what would amount to global chaos.  However, it disturbs me to realize that the capability exists and could be used.  I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis.  The nuclear missiles placed in Cuba by the Soviet Union were the same type of latent threat that malware code is in a laptop in Vermont.

In December 2015, Russian hackers successfully shut down a power grid in the Ukraine. In this case, the attackers used a kind of malware that wiped files off computer systems, shutting them down and resulting in the blackout, according to cyber-intelligence expert John Hultquist. At least one of the power systems was also infected with a type of malware known as BlackEnergy. A similar combination was used against some Ukrainian media organizations during local elections in 2014.

My purpose is not to be an alarmist, but I do have concerns:

  • Despite our best efforts over the years to counter cyber-espionage, hackers have nonetheless been able to penetrate electrical grids, government agencies, and other systems..
  • The incoming president has consistently denied any belief that the Russian government was behind the hacking of the DNC earlier this year, and has praised Vladimir Putin excessively. Would the Trump regime be likely to scale back efforts to counter cyber-espionage? Who knows, as there is no predictability to the man with small hands.
  • I believe we may be entering a period of a second Cold War, but one more dangerous to the planet than the one from the 1950s – 1960s, if for no other reason than our nation will lack the intelligent and cautious leadership we had back then. At the helm of the U.S. will be an under-educated, inexperienced, and unstable man.
  • If our security experts are aware that Russia and China have penetrated systems including electrical grids, then we must ask the question, “who else?” Terrorist organizations have become increasingly tech-savvy in the past two decades, and cyber-terrorism of this nature has far greater potential than anything that has thus far been unleashed by terrorists.

Again, I am not trying to be an alarmist, and really do not believe that our lives are doomed.  But I think it is prudent for us, as citizens, to be aware of the potential and do our jobs in electing those who are likely to take the necessary steps to keep not only the U.S., but the world safe.  Welcome to 2017.


15 thoughts on “Another Russian Hack …

  1. Pingback: Putin Controls The Light Switch??? | Filosofa's Word

  2. As an IT person, I was incensed by Trump’s statement over the weekend where he said that he knows a lot about hacking and hacking is very hard to prove. What an idiot. The purpose of hacking is to get attention. The hacker wants the victim to know they’ve been hacked. He then went on to recommend that important information should be printed and sent via courier instead of being sent through email. Maybe we should just shut down the Internet and go back to the 1950’s

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    • Yes, I read those comments yesterday and saw them as further proof, if we needed any, that we have elected an idiot to the Oval Office. Heck, by his own admission he cannot even figure out how to use his computer half the time! Sigh.

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  3. Jill, may we live in interesting times is the old quote, paraphrased a little. The new year will be that and more. Everything is hackable, so we should be diligent and prepared. The other worry is the fake news causing such undue alarm, that people in a position of leadership and without depth of experience or patience, will act rashly. That would include our President-elect, whose thin skin, shallow experience and large ego are reason for concern in a possible crisis. All the best, Keith

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    • Yes, dear Keith … we are in for a carnival ride of a year, and I cannot even begin to project what the landscape will look like at this time next year. But, I have seen that there are many of us who still think, who understand, who research … that I have at least some hope that the disaster we all have in our mind’s eye may yet be thwarted. One thing I can absolutely predict with a 99.9% confidence level is that 2017 will not be boring and will provide us all with plenty of fodder for our blogs! Best to you also, my friend.

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  4. Ah the Cold War… actually a continuation of the Hot War. The Cold War lasted (officially) up to the 1990s, but unofficially it never ended. As long as we had arned missiles pointed at our cities…readily visible or not…the threat remained. We are NOT about to have tea parties with the Russians, although if is within the realm of possibility that our direction could shift to a “with us or against us” mentality…turning bad real fast.

    Meanwhile, back at the target area, 2016 was indeed the YEAR FROM HELL big time! And in my humble opinion 2017 may very well be the beginning of a long, long nightmare.

    Happy New Year 2017, everyone!


  5. It is becoming increasingly popular to use back-up generators — especially in cold climates like ours. We have one that uses natural gas to back up fourteen circuits in our house. These generators are being used buy hospitals and many stores as well. It sounds like it would be wise for others to check into this! It puts one’s mind at ease a bit at any rate. Thanks for the heads-up!

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    • yes, backup generators are popular, and are very effective. They do run on gasoline (etc) power, which limits their long-term value. The various survival techniquest are useful to know and some Scout training could help. Depends on the black-out/shut-down cause and source….the power companies can and do manually shut-down sections of the power grid in times of severe heat or other catastrophic natural occurrences.


    • We had a windstorm here last Thursday afternoon. The electric company, Duke Energy, sent me a text message alerting me to power outages in the area and asking me to text “1” if I had electricity. I did, they texted a “thank you” and told me to text “Out” if it should go out later. I thought this was one of the best uses of technology I had seen! Anyway … later, after my daughter got home from work, I went to the grocery about a mile from home, and should have known immediately that something was not right, as the parking lot in front of Kroger was empty. But I thought nothing of it until I got to the doors, and they didn’t open automatically. I still didn’t figure it out for a minute until I saw the handwritten note on the door saying that they were closed due to a power outage! But every light in the store was on! Generators, I am sure, but apparently they could not operate the cash registers or something. Anyway … if you had seen me standing at the door, scratching my head, wondering what the heck was wrong … you would have laughed!


    • Thank you, my friend. But alas … sigh … when I awoke this morning, the ugliness of the last year was still here. As for my dreams … I seem to not know what, precisely, they are any more. Just to do something good, I think. But one of my dreams was fulfilled in 2016 by the great friends, like yourself, that I have made through this blog! Huge hugs to you, David!

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