Hackers Behind the Ukrainian Blackout – Are Industrialized Nations Vulnerable to Such Cyberattacks?

It looks like hackers have been exploring new avenues. While we thought hacking was limited to devices like the computer, phones and tablets, hackers ingeniously attacked electrical substations killing electricity to almost 700,000 homes in Ukraine.

On December 23rd Ukraine’s Ivano-Frankivsk region saw the first blackout of its kind. The blackout was created by hackers who used malware to disconnect the substations leading to an outage. Researchers from the security firm iSIGHT Partners informed that they have obtained samples of the malware which infected approximately three regional operators.

Cyberattacks like these can amount to huge concerns. John Hultquist who is head of iSIGHT’s cyber spying intelligence practice said “It is the major scenario that we have all been concerned about for so long”. Containing attacks like these can be very difficult and it appears that at this time there are more questions than we may have answers to regarding the attack.

Researchers from antivirus provider ESET have identified the malware as BlackEnergy. It is a package that was discovered in 2007. Regular updates to it have made it capable of destroying critical parts of your hard drive, and can render infected computers unbootable, it can also sabotage industrial control systems and give the hacker permanent access to the computer which has been infected.

ESET stipulates that the power authorities were infected with malware through macro functions which were embedded in Microsoft Office documents. The fact that the hackers used such a simple route to create a blackout of such extent is distressing. It also questions the vulnerability of the power authorities who supply electricity to millions of people.

This cyberattack brings to light the ability of hackers to cripple industrialized nations by using destructive malwares like BlackEnergy. Ukraine as well as all other countries should take this attack as a reason for strengthening their systems to avoid attacks like these in the future.

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