IT experts say Ukraine blackout caused by a cyberattack

January 5, 2016
A blackout which hit a large part of Ukraine's western region of Ivano-Frankivsk on December 23 was due to a computer virus, IT
A blackout which hit a large part of Ukraine's western region of Ivano-Frankivsk on December 23 was due to a computer virus, IT experts said

A power failure that plunged parts of western Ukraine into the dark last month was caused by a cyberattack, IT experts said Tuesday, and one source called it a world first.

The blackout, which hit a large part of the western region of Ivano-Frankivsk on December 23, was due to a computer , they said.

The local electricity company, Prikarpattiaoblenergo, said at the time that the breakdown was caused by "the intervention of unauthorised persons ... in the remote access system" and its technicians had had to restore power manually.

But Ukraine's SBU security service later said it found malware—programmes designed to take over or damage systems—on the networks of several regional electricity companies.

"A virus which we've never seen before was detected... It causes damage. The automated systems stopped functioning and computers shut down," said a Ukrainian source familiar with the incident on condition of anonymity.

A spokeswoman for the Ivano-Frankivsk SBU office Maria Rymar, said the agency was still working on the case.

"For the moment, we can't say who did it and for what purpose," she said.

The IT security firm ESET pinned the blame on a programme called KillDisk that was introduced onto the electricity company's computers on an infected Excel spreading document via "phishing"—tempting an employee to open an inocuous-looking file.

The company, which has been monitoring the spread of KillDisk and a companion programme, said the virus deleted files in the computer systems, making them inoperable, and also contained code to sabotage industrial systems.

"It was a world first" in bringing down civilian infrastructure, ESET's French subsidiary said in a statement.

"This attack can only confirm what professionals have been fearing—cyber-criminals are more and more powerful and cyber-attacks will be more and more numerous in 2016."

IT experts have been warning for years about cyber-security in vital civilian infrastructure such as power grids and transport.

Iran's nuclear refining facilities were hobbled in 2010 by a virus called Stuxnet, which is suspected to have been developed by the United States and Israel.

That was believed to the first virus designed not just to steal information or hijack computers, but to damage equipment.

Explore further: Nuclear power plants warned on cyber security

Related Stories

Iran says Duqu malware under 'control'

November 13, 2011

Iran said on Sunday it had found a way to "control" the computer malware Duqu, which is similar to Stuxnet virus which in 2010 attacked its nuclear programme and infected more than 30,000 computers.

Chevron says hit by Stuxnet virus in 2010

November 9, 2012

Oil giant Chevron was struck by the Stuxnet virus, a sophisticated cyber attack that tore through Iran's nuclear facilities and is believed to have been launched by the United States and Israel.

Malware hunter Kaspersky warns of cyber war dangers

June 6, 2012

The Russian malware hunter whose firm discovered the Flame virus said Wednesday there could be plenty more malicious code out there, and warned he feared a disastrous cyber attack could be coming.

Symantec warns of new Stuxnet-like virus

October 19, 2011

US security firm Symantec has warned of a new computer virus similar to the malicious Stuxnet worm believed to have preyed on Iran's nuclear program.

Recommended for you

Your (social media) votes matter

January 24, 2017

When Tim Weninger conducted two large-scale experiments on Reddit - otherwise known as "the front page of the internet" - back in 2014, the goal was to better understand the ripple effects of malicious voting behavior and ...

Protective wear inspired by fish scales

January 24, 2017

They started with striped bass. Over a two-year period the researchers went through about 50 bass, puncturing or fracturing hundreds of fish scales under the microscope, to try to understand their properties and mechanics ...

'Droneboarding' takes off in Latvia

January 22, 2017

Skirted on all sides by snow-clad pine forests, Latvia's remote Lake Ninieris would be the perfect picture of winter tranquility—were it not for the huge drone buzzing like a swarm of angry bees as it zooms above the solid ...

Singapore 2G switchoff highlights digital divide

January 22, 2017

When Singapore pulls the plug on its 2G mobile phone network this year, thousands of people could be stuck without a signal—digital have-nots left behind by the relentless march of technology.

Making AI systems that see the world as humans do

January 19, 2017

A Northwestern University team developed a new computational model that performs at human levels on a standard intelligence test. This work is an important step toward making artificial intelligence systems that see and understand ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.