To The Burlington Electric Company

From Russia With Love

The recent cyberattack at the Burlington Electric Company, in Vermont, is like something out of the pages of the Ian Fleming novel, From Russia With Love.

Fleming’s novel about plot and counterplots between British and Russian intelligence agencies, is very similar to what we have seen in the news the last few months. Smersh, a character in the novel, From Russia With Love, needs to restore the good name of the Soviet assassination agency, after criticism from recent failures.  Smersh decides that an act of terrorism will bring confidence back to the agency and plans to kill a British Secret Service agent, which is James Bond.

While the exact plot of Ian Fleming’s novel is not played out today in the media, there are striking similarities, such as Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister of Russia, wanting to bring back the Soviet Russia that was respected on the world stage. Putin has definitely taken steps that would leave no confusion as to his political motives, as well as international ambition, which should not surprise any of us.

So I confess my lack of understanding, at the outrage of the latest media story about Russian malware being found on a laptop at the Burlington Electric Company, and United States Senators talking as if this is an act of war; have they not been following the endless reports regarding cyber threats to America and the world?

Where was the outrage in the summer of 2014, when Symantec put out a report that State Sponsored Russian hackers, put malware on computers at power plants, energy grid operations and gas pipeline companies? Was that cyber intrusion not an act of war?

The cyber attack by the Russians was a long campaign against the Western Industrial Control Systems equipment; and while the attack also included Europe, most of the attacks were in the United States and Spain. It should be noted that Spain owns energy and utility companies in the United States.  The cyber attack known as Dragonfly, was nicknamed Energetic Bear.  But where was the outrage then?  The fact is, that there has been a cyber war for a long time, and while we hear about breech after breech of privacy, there has been a serious State Sponsored cyber war for years; but where has the outrage been?

The latest news story that has drawn outrage about a computer that was identified with the same signature malware from the DNC, at the Burlington Electric Company, leaves me to wonder, why now? Why the outrage now?  The infected computer was not part of the Industrial Control System network, which is surrounded by an Electronic Security Perimeter.  And while I personally believe it is Russian malware, because we all have a digital signature, to put it simply, I do not understand the outrage.

When I initially heard the story break, my first thought was the fact that we are fools to believe that this would be the first time that Russia has hacked into our grid, or for that matter do we actually not understand that China too has targeted our critical infrastructure?

The second part of the cyber attack story was about Russia meddling in our domestic political affairs. Can we, in the United States of America, really take issue with a foreign government meddling in our elections, when without doubt, there is proven evidence that the United States Government has meddled in foreign government elections for years.  If there is any doubt, look at Israel’ s last election.

However, what I am concerned about is not the Russians meddling in our political affairs, but rather the location of the piece of malware in question; it was found on a computer at the Burlington Electric Company, not at Southern California Edison, or Florida Power and Light, or Consolidated Edison. How many of us actually knew the name of the power company for the city of Burlington before this story broke?  Why would anyone hack or attack a power company in the city of Burlington?

This small energy company literally services under 20,000 customers; would taking them off line truly interrupt most of our daily lives? Would Americans rally around the city of Burlington in outrage and concern if they lost their power?  I have to wonder how much coverage a power outage in Vermont would actually garner in the national news cast.

So why would the Russians or anyone else bother to attack the Burlington Electric Company? I am afraid I can actually help you to understand this cyber-attack and why it matters to us all.

A little over a year ago, I was speaking with an official from a small local government facility, and he told me that recently he was approached by the FBI, which instructed him and his team on computer security for their municipality. The FBI stated that the smaller utility and local governments were the next frontier for nation state sponsored attacks; meaning that when we saw small companies being targeted, we would know that our enemies had completed mapping out the larger companies, and had then moved on to their next phase.

So I have to wonder, in terms of our critical infrastructure in the United States, are we now facing the beginning of the attacks on our last frontier?

How will we be able to stay safely Connected?

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