Did The Russians Hack The U.S. Power Grid? A Grid Crash Would Change Life As We Know It In America Overnight

Russian hackers may have been attempting to hack the United States power grid, according to statements made by an unnamed government official to the Washington Post. A hacking code which is reportedly associated with a Russian hacking operation deemed, "Grizzly Steppe" by the Obama administration, was detected within a Vermont electrical utility system.

The hacking code the Obama administration says is linked to a Russian hacking group did not disrupt the operations of the United States power grid. But, the presence of the cyber attack code has been deemed significant because it highlights the distinct vulnerabilities of the nation's electrical system.

Cyber security experts have issued warnings about the weaknesses of the United States power grid for many years. As previously reported by the Inquisitr, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said it was a matter of "when" not "if" the American power grid would become the victim of a cyber attack.

"There are a lot of people out there who don't particularly like us," retired Air Force General Ronald Keys, who is the chairman for the Military Advisory Board for energy and climate security, said. "They know that the grid is a weakness for us. There can be adversaries that we know, there can be people that are just disgruntled, there can be people that are just essentially acting up. But the effect is going to be to shut down at least part of the grid."

The senior Obama administration official told the Washington Post the government does not know what the Russian hackers being blamed for the power grid cyber attack were intending to accomplish. The electrical system is monitored constantly because the important piece of infrastructure is highly computerized and even the smallest disruption could spark substantial functioning problems for essential emergency and medical services.

Power utility officials nationwide have been given access to the Grizzly Steppe hacking code, according to the Obama administration official who spoke with the Washington Post. Because the operators have viewed the code, utility officials in Vermont were reportedly able to identify how their system was hacked.

In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers awarded the United States power grid only a "D+" grade after determining the system is only in "poor to fair condition and mostly below standard, with many elements approaching the end of their service life." The engineers also discovered a significant portion of the power grid "exhibits significant deterioration" with a "strong risk of failure."

The American Society of Civil Engineers report also stated the United States is relying on an aging electrical grid and pipeline distribution system, some of which was built during the 1880s. The engineers noted some investments have been made to enhance power transmission since 2005, but added ongoing issues with garnering permits, limited maintenance of the utility system, and weather events, have continued to cause an increasing number of both power interruptions and failures around the country.

There are only two major power grid utilities in the state of Vermont, Burlington Electric and Green Mountain, the Daily Mail reports. The cyber attack on the power grid may have been a failed attempt to disrupt service or merely a test by the Russian hackers being blamed for the crime to determine how penetration of a portion of the grid could be best accomplished.

As previously reported by the Inquisitr, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen believes the power grid is vulnerable to a terrorist attack. Chaos and civil unrest would quickly emerge throughout the United States if an attack on the power grid were to occur, the former government official warns.

Cyber attacks and terrorism are not the only threat to the antiquated power grid system in the United States. A direct hit by a Carrington Event strength solar flare could destroy large swaths of the system, or the entire electrical utility, as well. The 1859 Carrington Event is the largest and strongest solar flare ever recorded. The solar flare is said to have sparked telegraph wires and caused papers on the desks of operators to burst into flames.

William Cohen served as the Secretary of Defense under President Bill Clinton. He also served as a Republican Senator from Maine.

"You can do it [power grid attack] through cyber attacks, and that's the real threat coming up as well. We have to look at cyber attacks being able to shut down our power grid, which you have to remember is in the private sector's hands, not the government's. And we're vulnerable," Cohen said. "It's possible and whether it's likely to happen soon remains to be seen."

NSA Director Michael Rogers, the commander of United States Cyber Command, has also issued warnings about the threat cyber hackers pose to the power grid. The cyber command, known as CYBERCOM, is responsible for the defense of military computer networks and offensive cyber operations, according to ABC News.

National Security Agency Director and U.S. Cyber command Commander Admiral Michael Rogers takes questions during his keynote address to the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association's sixth annual Cybersecurity Technology Summit
NSA Director Michael Rodgers [Image by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]

As noted by the Inquisitr, Rogers said Chinese cyber hackers could possess the ability to shut down the electrical grid in America and effectively end life as we know it for quite a long time. Rogers believes either China or "one or two" other countries are capable of instigating cyber attacks which could shut down "critical systems" on a nationwide scale.

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