US officials said Saturday that computer code associated with Russian hackers was found at a Vermont utility company. The news immediately followed Obama’s announcement of sanctions against Russia in response to alleged attempts to influence the outcome of the election.
The computer in which the code was found was not linked to the electrical grid, contrary to early reports on the matter. It was found in a laptop at Burlington Electric.
Officials, speaking anonymously, said that the code had not been actively used to disrupt operations, but that the discovery of the code highlights the vulnerability of the US electrical grid. It also raises concerns among officials that Russian government hackers could attempt to access the grid to carry out attacks. The grid is closely monitored by government and utility officials, given the possibility of disruptions to medical and emergency services.
The code was associated with a Russian campaign that FBI and Homeland Security officials have called Grizzly Steppe, which has been linked to hacks of the Democratic National Convention and other organizations.
The DHS and FBI on Thursday published a report discussing Russia’s “ongoing campaign of cyber-enabled operations directed at the US government and its citizens”. In response to the Vermont discovery Saturday, officials said it was unclear when the code had been put in the computer or what the plans the hackers had to use the code. They said an investigation will begin to uncover the timing and intentions of the hackers, and will look into whether other utilities could have been targeted.
Democratic Vermont governor Peter Shumlin said in a statement:
“Vermonters and all Americans should be both alarmed and outraged that one of the world’s leading thugs, Vladimir Putin, has been attempting to hack our electric grid, which we rely upon to support our quality-of-life, economy, health, and safety. This episode should highlight the urgent need for our federal government to vigorously pursue and put an end to this sort of Russian meddling.”
Incoming President-elect Donald Trump has expressed skepticism towards claims of Russian hacking from the intelligence community. He has expressed admiration towards Vladimir Putin, even in the face of suggestions from the Obama administration that the hacking was approved at the top levels of the Russian government.
Sean Spicer, a Trump spokesman, said it would be “highly inappropriate to comment,” since he had not yet been briefed on the subject. Trump has agreed to a meeting with intelligence officials next week, which will focus on allegations of Russian hacking.