(CNN) – U.S. investigators have found evidence to confirm what is believed to be the first of its kind cyber-attack on a power grid that caused a blackout affecting hundreds of thousands of people in Ukraine in December.
A U.S. official close to the investigation says the power outage was caused by a sophisticated attack using destructive malware that wrecked computers and wiped out sensitive control systems for parts of the Ukrainian power grid.
For years, U.S. officials have expressed worry about the vulnerability of the U.S. power grid. And the U.S. investigation of the Ukrainian attack has confirmed what until now largely has been theoretical: that cyber-warfare can be used to disable the U.S. power grid. U.S. systems aren’t any more protected than those breached in Ukraine, the U.S. official said.
Ukrainian authorities have blamed Russia for the outage, saying it was part of the Russian government’s pattern of undeclared war against its neighbor. Almost immediately investigators found indications of a malware called BlackEnergy.
The U.S. sent experts from the Energy and Homeland Security departments, as well as the FBI to assist the Ukrainians in their investigation.
What the U.S. investigators found was an unprecedented cyber-warfare attack, the U.S. official told CNN. A sophisticated team of hackers coordinated attacks at the same time against six power providers, the U.S. officials.
The attack was so severe that it knocked out internal systems that are intended to help the power companies restore power. Computers were destroyed. Even the call centers used to report outages were knocked out.
The question of who carried out the attack is still unanswered.
The BlackEnergy malware has origins in Russia, but the U.S. isn’t ready to attribute the attack to the Russian government. However, the attack raises important and alarming questions for the U.S. The same malware has been found in U.S. industrial systems.