5 Big Hacking Stories You May Have Missed

January 3, 2017, 3:01 PM UTC
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual address to the Russian Federal Assembly at the Moscow Kremlin.
Photograph by Mikhail Metzel—TASS via Getty Images

The holidays are a slow time for news, leading much of the media to focus on stuff like sports and Mariah Carey’s meltdown on New Year’s Eve. But the end of 2016 also brought a spate of stories involving hacking, which has become one of the biggest political and security issues of our time.

So in case you’ve been away or offline, here’s a summary of five significant cybersecurity stories that came out while you were quaffing eggnog or watching football:

1. Vermont’s Power Grid Was (Not) Hacked

The Washington Post last Friday published an alarming headline suggesting that Russia had “penetrated” the U.S. power grid via a Vermont utility. The story touched off a minor panic as politicians and media outlets fretted that the Kremlin could plunge parts of America into cold, snowy darkness.

Fortunately, the story was wrong. It turned out that a single laptop belonging to Vermont’s government contained malware of Russian origin—but the computer was not connected to the grid, and there is no evidence that the malware was placed by the Kremlin. The Post has since rebutted its own story, as have many others.

2. The Obama Administration’s Big Hacking Reveal Falls Flat

The White House retaliated for Moscow’s meddling with the U.S. election by expelling 35 diplomats, and by publishing a report on Russian hacking. The analysis included two examples of the malware that Russia had allegedly used to carry out the hacking schemes.

But the report failed to provide any smoking guns, and the malware examples appeared to be common bits of code that are widely available on the Internet. It’s possible, of course, that the White House deliberately withheld more damning information in order to avoid revealing details about U.S. intelligence operations. But for serious cybersecurity folks, the report is a dud.

3. Germany on Edge Over Elections

Germany is ramping up its cybersecurity defenses amid widespread fears that Russia will run its familiar playbook, consisting of hacking and information, in a bid to sway the country’s upcoming elections. As the FT reported last week:

German security officials have said last year’s assault on the Bundestag’s computer network was also carried out by Russia-backed hackers seeking ammunition for electoral meddling. Earlier this month, [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel warned that there were signs of internet-based attacks and misinformation campaigns coming from Russia that could “play a role in the election campaign.

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4. Trump Says He’ll Divulge Details About Hacking

In an apparent shift of strategy, Donald Trump said he will share new information about recent hacking incidents, including “things that other people don’t know.” Previously, the President-elect has brushed off questions about hacking and said it was time to move on. Trump, who also said “I know a lot about hacking,” suggested he will disclose the information on Tuesday or Wednesday.

5. Where Russia Gets All Those Hackers

The New York Times published a feature that provides new insights into how Russia built the cyber army that’s now causing so much trouble. Interesting tidbits relate to the recruitment of garden variety cyber criminals, and how Russia’s hacking force now amounts to “guerrilla geopolitics.” Definitely worth a read.

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