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Ukraine Accuses Russia of Hacking Power Companies

Russia has been accused by Ukrainian authorities of launching cyber attacks against power companies.

According to a statement posted this week on the official website of the Ukrainian security service SBU, Russian special services allegedly planted malware on the networks of several regional power companies. The malicious software is said to have been discovered by employees of the SBU.

The SBU said the attackers also flooded the targeted companies’ technical support phone lines. The agency removed the malware and launched an investigation.

Just before Christmas, power outages were reported in the Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast region of Ukraine. The outages were blamed on outsiders who remotely tampered with automatic control systems. The power company responsible for the region also reported that its call center suffered a technical failure caused by a barrage of calls.

In April, threat intelligence firm LookingGlass released a report detailing Operation Armageddon, a campaign conducted by a Russia-linked threat group against Ukrainian military and government officials. While the Ukrainian government doesn’t seem to have invested much in its cyberwarfare capabilities, the country has a cyber army of volunteers that launches hacker attacks against Russian targets.

This is not the first time Russia has been accused of launching cyberattacks against the energy sector. Security companies reported last year that a threat group known as Dragonfly and Energetic Bear, believed to be operating out of Russia, had been targeting energy firms in the United States and Europe since early 2013.

In its report on the Dragonfly group, Symantec noted that the attackers apparently compromised the systems of strategically important organizations for espionage purposes, but they could have caused damage or disruption to energy supplies in affected countries.

Earlier this year, Symantec reported observing a reconnaissance campaign focusing on the energy sector in the Middle East, but it’s unclear who is behind the attacks.

Authorities and experts in the United States have also warned about the consequences of cyberattacks on the energy sector. ICS-CERT revealed in March that more than a quarter of the incidents reported to the agency in 2014 affected the energy sector.

A report published in July by insurance company Lloyd’s and the Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies at University of Cambridge estimated that an attack where adversaries damaged 50 generators supplying power to the electrical grid could result in between $243 billion and $1 trillion in economic damage.

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.