Russia has been accused by Ukrainian authorities of launching cyber attacks against power companies.
According to a statement posted this week on the official website of the Ukrainian security service SBU, Russian special services allegedly planted malware on the networks of several regional power companies. The malicious software is said to have been discovered by employees of the SBU.
The SBU said the attackers also flooded the targeted companies’ technical support phone lines. The agency removed the malware and launched an investigation.
Just before Christmas, power outages were reported in the Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast region of Ukraine. The outages were blamed on outsiders who remotely tampered with automatic control systems. The power company responsible for the region also reported that its call center suffered a technical failure caused by a barrage of calls.
In April, threat intelligence firm LookingGlass released a report detailing Operation Armageddon, a campaign conducted by a Russia-linked threat group against Ukrainian military and government officials. While the Ukrainian government doesn’t seem to have invested much in its cyberwarfare capabilities, the country has a cyber army of volunteers that launches hacker attacks against Russian targets.
This is not the first time Russia has been accused of launching cyberattacks against the energy sector. Security companies reported last year that a threat group known as Dragonfly and Energetic Bear, believed to be operating out of Russia, had been targeting energy firms in the United States and Europe since early 2013.
In its report on the Dragonfly group, Symantec noted that the attackers apparently compromised the systems of strategically important organizations for espionage purposes, but they could have caused damage or disruption to energy supplies in affected countries.
Earlier this year, Symantec reported observing a reconnaissance campaign focusing on theenergy sector in the Middle East, but it’s unclear who is behind the attacks.
Authorities and experts in the United States have also warned about the consequences of cyberattacks on the energy sector. ICS-CERT revealed in March that more than a quarter of the incidents reported to the agency in 2014 affected the energy sector.
A report published in July by insurance company Lloyd’s and the Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies at University of Cambridge estimated that an attack where adversaries damaged 50 generators supplying power to the electrical grid could result in between $243 billion and $1 trillion in economic damage.
Ukraine to investigate suspected cyber attack on energy grid
By Pavel Polityuk
KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine will investigate a suspected cyber attack on its power grid, the energy ministry said on Thursday, an incident the country’s secret service has blamed on Russia.
A power company in western Ukraine, Prykarpattyaoblenergo, said on Dec. 23 that a swath of the area it serves had been left without energy, including the regional capital Ivano-Frankivsk, due to “interference” in the work of the system.
The Ukrainian Security Service SBU later blamed Russia, which has not so far commented on the allegation. The energy ministry in Kiev said on Thursday that it had set up a special commission to investigate what happened.
While cyber attacks are commonplace, few successful assaults on industrial targets have been documented. However, in 2010 the Stuxnet campaign, believed to be the work of the United States and Israel, damaged Iran’s nuclear programme while a 2014 attack shut down operations at a German steel mill.
The SBU said in a statement on Monday that it had managed to thwart the malware, which was launched by “Russian security services”.
“It was an attempt to interfere in the system, but it was discovered and prevented,” an SBU spokeswoman told Reuters on Thursday, adding that the region would have faced a much longer blackout if the malware had executed as the attackers had intended.
The Kremlin could not immediately be reached for comment.
Computer security experts consider Russia as one of the world’s most advanced cyber powers, along with the United States, China, Israel, France and Britain.
Relations between Russia and Ukraine have sharply deteriorated since Moscow annexed Crimea last year and supported pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Russia has complained that it itself has become a target. In 2014, President Vladimir Putin said Russian security services had detected a sharp rise in cyber attacks, particularly after the Ukraine crisis worsened and ties with the West deteriorated.
Crimea has lost at least one quarter of its power after Ukraine switched off supplies to the contested peninsula on Wednesday, a situation that Ukrainian police blamed on unidentified saboteurs blowing up an electricity pylon.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kiev and Jim Finkle in Boston; Editing by Andrew Osborn and David Stamp)