Ukraine to Investigate Suspected Cyber Attack on Energy Grid

December 31, 2015, 5:10 PM UTC
State Of Emergency In Crimea After Crash Of  Electricity Lines
YALTA, CRIMEA, RUSSIA - NOVEMBER 27: Electricity lines on November 27, 2015 in Yalta, Crimea, Russia. Crimea declared a state of emergency on November 22, 2015 after its main electricity lines from Ukraine were blown up, leaving the Russian-annexed peninsula in darkness after the second such attack in as many days. (Photo by Victor Korotayev/Kommersant Photo via Getty Images)
Kommersant Photo Kommersant via Getty Images

By Pavel Polityuk

KIEV, Dec 31 (Reuters) – Ukraine will investigate a suspected cyber attack on its power grid, the energy ministry said on Thursday, an incident the country’s secret service has blamed on Russia.

A power company in western Ukraine, Prykarpattyaoblenergo, said on Dec. 23 that a swath of the area it serves had been left without energy, including the regional capital Ivano-Frankivsk, due to “interference” in the work of the system.

The Ukrainian Security Service SBU later blamed Russia, which has not so far commented on the allegation. The energy ministry in Kiev said on Thursday that it had set up a special commission to investigate what happened.

While cyber attacks are commonplace, few successful assaults on industrial targets have been documented. However, in 2010 the Stuxnet campaign, believed to be the work of the United States and Israel, damaged Iran’s nuclear program while a 2014 attack shut down operations at a German steel mill.

The SBU said in a statement on Monday that it had managed to thwart the malware, which was launched by “Russian security services.”

“It was an attempt to interfere in the system, but it was discovered and prevented,” an SBU spokeswoman told Reuters on Thursday, adding that the region would have faced a much longer blackout if the malware had executed as the attackers had intended.

The Kremlin could not immediately be reached for comment.

Computer security experts consider Russia as one of the world’s most advanced cyber powers, along with the United States, China, Israel, France and Britain.

Relations between Russia and Ukraine have sharply deteriorated since Moscow annexed Crimea last year and supported pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Russia has complained that it itself has become a target. In 2014, President Vladimir Putin said Russian security services had detected a sharp rise in cyber attacks, particularly after the Ukraine crisis worsened and ties with the West deteriorated.

Crimea has lost at least one quarter of its power after Ukraine switched off supplies to the contested peninsula on Wednesday, a situation that Ukrainian police blamed on unidentified saboteurs blowing up an electricity pylon.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kiev and Jim Finkle in Boston; Editing by Andrew Osborn and David Stamp)