According to researchers at security firm ESET, a threat group using the Russia-linked ‘Black Energy’ malware are to blame for the recent power outages in Ukraine.
Ukrainian power company Prykarpattyaoblenergo reported an outage on December 23, 2015, ending last year with the first reported power outage proven to have been caused by a cyber-attack. Ukraine’s security service, the SBU, responded by accusing Russian special services of planting malware on the networks of numerous regional power companies. While no other companies have reported a power outage, two other power companies have been found with similar malware within their network.
iSight Partners believes the hackers behind the blackouts are part of the threat group, Sandworm Team, who is notoriously known for its use of BlackEnergy malware.
BlackEnergy malware has been around since at least 2007 and has been used in many targeted attacks, including ones aimed at critical infrastructures within the United States.
In addition to BlackEnergy malware, ESET has also identified an SSH backdoor used to gain access to infected systems. The SSH server had been configured to allow attackers to authenticate using a hardcoded password, allowing hackers to connect to the compromised network whenever they pleased.
While this may be the first reported outage caused by a cyber-attack, this should come as no huge surprise. Security experts have been predicting this instance for years, highlighting that electric utility providers are that vulnerable that we could have our power cut at any moment.
It’s important that utility providers abide by the NERC CIP Compliance standards, but also implement additional security solutions like File Integrity Monitoring to their IT estate. File Integrity Monitoring can help identify you of any malicious malware found in your IT environment and could be the difference between a close call and a serious power outage.