Cyber attack: Russia 'now has playbook to take down U.S. energy grid'

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The massive cyber attack on major government agencies and Defense Department contractors could be a prelude to an attempt to take down the entire U.S. electric grid, warned a former senior State Department cybersecurity expert.

Morgan Wright told Fox Business host Lou Dobbs on Thursday it had “the hallmarks” of the Russian malware attack on Ukraine in December 2015 that took out power in 700,000 homes.

“They were practicing this in other areas. This is their kind of tradecraft,” he said.

Wright warned that Russia, by gaining access to top U.S. agencies, is “assessing our capabilities” and “vulnerabilities.”

“Russia now has the playbook if they want to take down the U.S. energy grid,” he said.

The Department of Homeland Security, calling the attack a “grave threat,” said hackers uploaded malware into updates for SolarWinds software. It impacted 18,000 companies, including Defense Department contractors and U.S. nuclear agencies, the Treasury Department and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Dobbs, noting the DHS admitted it had no capacity to stop it, said he couldn’t recall a more serious attack.

“Any time you call a meeting on Saturday in the National Security Counsel, it’s serious,” Wright said. “This is almost like a prelude to war.”

He said the attack required several months of preparation that could have begun after the 2018 election.

“After they were kind of silent during that time, this is Russia’s way of getting back in the game,” he said.

“They knew we were going to be looking at them for the election, so what did they do? They took a different tack and, instead, they attacked the one company that had over 300,000 clients, many of those government clients and very significant private sector clients,” said Wright.

While SolarWinds said “only” 18,000 of its 300,000 global customers were affected, Wright said the attack could not be dimissed as “just a minor thing.”

The hackers, he said, “exploited the trust mechanism that every company relied upon to patch vulnerabilities,” referring to the uploading of malware through a software update.

Dobbs noted that along with the nuclear stockpile, it’s also likely that nuclear laboratories have been compromised.

Worse, he pointed out, “there is no fix here, and right now foreign actors are in control of the U.S. federal networks and systems.”

“There’s no other way to read this, is there?” Dobbs asked Wright.

“No,” replied Wright, noting the DHS cybersecurity branch, CISA, already has told the Department of Energy “you’re on your own, we don’t have the bandwidth to support you.”

Dobbs recalled a doctrine that began under the Obama administration in which such a cyber attack would be considered an act of war.

“What in hell is the U.S. government doing waiting to respond?” the Fox Business host asked.

Wright replied the U.S. is being careful about assigning responsibility for the attack, but he insisted officials must be more transparent about what is going on and the steps that need to be taken.

See the interview:

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