When President Obama announced he was dropping the hammer on Russia for launching cybertacks to influence the presidential election, Donald Trump harrumphed that we ought to just “get on with our lives.” But in light of news that a Kremlin-linked hacking group burrowed its way into a Vermont electric company, Trump’s own counterterrorism adviser publicly called for his boss to open his eyes and accept that we just can’t go on as normal.
On Friday, the Burlington Electric Department, the municipal electric company in Vermont’s largest city, announced that malicious code associated with the Russian hacking collective Grizzly Steppe had been found on one of its laptops. “CBS This Morning” had more details; watch here.
Burlington Electric says that the laptop was not connected to its grid. However, it took immediate steps to isolate the laptop and alert federal authorities. The code was not actively used to disrupt operations, and there is–at least for now–no evidence that this was linked to the election hacking. Nonetheless, the discovery has federal and state officials on edge because of fears that the Kremlin’s hackers are actively trying to burrow their way into the American electric grid to carry out attacks in the future.
That discovery has former CIA director Jim Woolsey, a senior adviser to Trump on counterterrorism, on edge as well. He told CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux that this latest Kremlin hack ought to be a wake-up call to Trump. Watch here.
Woolsey said that when all is said and done, Trump won’t blow off the Burlington Electric hack in the manner that he blew off the election hacks. He has monitored Kremlin-linked groups’ attempt to hack other countries’ infrastructure for more than a decade. He noted that in the past, Russia has hacked the electrical grids of Ukraine and Georgia, using “some of the same software and hardware” that was used in the Burlington Electric hack.
Woolsey added that Russia has recently embraced “asymmetric warfare” against other countries’ infrastructures. This is particularly dangerous, since taking out the electrical grid can cripple water purification and food delivery, among other things. For that reason, Woolsey said, this hack in Vermont is “a very big deal and ought to be treated as such.” He rightly argues that this is not a partisan issue, and believed it ought to be a wake-up call not only to Trump, but to the electrical industry. In the past, the nation’s electric companies have been reluctant to fix the numerous vulnerabilities that make such hacking possible.
Malveaux asked Woolsey if he would convey his concerns to Trump. Woolsey said that he intended to hammer home the point that this was “a very serious situation”–one that required going to “general quarters right away” and fix the holes in the grid.
Woolsey may have his work cut out for him. Within hours of the code’s discovery, several right-wing outlets and Websites whined that any suggestion that the Kremlin was responsible was “fake news.” And as we already know, another senior Trump adviser, John Bolton, apparently has Trump convinced that the election hack was an Obama-engineered false flag. When we even have to wonder if the president-elect will take an attack on our infrastructure seriously, that’s a bad sign.
(featured image courtesy CIA, part of public domain)