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Homeland Security

US Lawmaker: Utility's Malware Discovery Points to 'Rampant Russian Hacking'

By VOA News December 31, 2016

A U.S. congressman from Vermont said Saturday that Russian malware code found in a computer belonging to a major state electric utility was further evidence of "rampant Russian hacking."

Democratic Representative Peter Welch called Thursday's malware discovery further proof that Russian computer hacking was "systematic, relentless and predatory."

"They will hack everywhere, even Vermont, in pursuit of opportunities to disrupt our country," Welch said.

His statement came as criticism of Russian cyberspying escalated and support for sanctions against Moscow imposed by President Barack Obama broadened.

Officials in the states of New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut said they were more closely monitoring computer networks belonging to the state governments and to public utilities in response to the discovery in Vermont.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's office said he had directed all state agencies to re-examine their computer systems for breaches, although so far nothing had been found.

Earlier, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin said Americans should "be both alarmed and outraged that one of the world's leading thugs, [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, has been attempting to hack our electric grid."

Officials said Friday that it wasn't clear when the Russian code entered the utility's computer, and that an investigation was aimed at determining the timing and the objectives of the intrusion.

Fraudulent emails

A report this week jointly authored by two U.S. security agencies said the hackers involved in the code entry used fraudulent emails to trick recipients into revealing their passwords.

The code discovery in sparsely populated Vermont came just days after U.S. cybersecurity officials shared details of the malware code with executives from a broad array of financial, utility and transportation groups nationwide.

Within a day, Vermont utility officials found the code embedded in their software and reported it to federal officials.

By late Saturday, Russia had not commented officially on the code discovery, which came after months of controversy surrounding U.S. intelligence reports that Moscow-backed hackers earlier this year stole a raft of internal emails from the Democratic National Committee.

Those documents soon began appearing on the website of the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, prompting widespread suspicion that Moscow had collaborated with the group in an attempt to undermine Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

Russia denied involvement, and Clinton's opponent, Donald Trump, who won the presidency in the November 8 general election, has sought to discredit the hacking evidence. Early on, he said he doubted such incursions had occurred. But this week he said he would meet with U.S. intelligence officials to review details of the intrusions, which have been detailed in extensive reporting by The New York Times.

Trump's decision to meet with intelligence officials came as Obama announced a series of economic sanctions against Russia and the expulsion of 35 Russian officials from the United States.

Moscow announced Friday that Putin would not retaliate for the sanctions or expulsions, in a move widely interpreted as evidence he hopes to see the penalties lifted after Trump takes office January 20.

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