FBI says Russian hackers are scanning US energy systems, posing ‘current’ threat

Russian hackers are scanning power companies and other key infrastructure systems in the United States, and state-sponsored hacking by Russia poses a “current” threat to American national security, a top FBI official told lawmakers on Tuesday.

“The threat from Russia in a criminal sense to the nation’s state is very real and present,” said Brian Vernandran, an assistant director of the FBI’s cyber department, during a hearing before a U.S. House of Representatives panel.

In the weeks leading up to Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine, the White House and the Justice Department have warned US companies about intelligence that Russia may be taking preliminary steps to launch a cyber attack.

Vorandran told lawmakers that examples of “Russian scanning” networks in the U.S. energy sector have recently increased, and said such activity represents a “revival phase” by Russia to understand whether a company has defenses and vulnerabilities that could be exploited.

“This is a very important part of the overall attack,” he said, adding that Russia was “one of the two most capable cyber opponents in the world” and “a powerful enemy.”

Last year, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, US President Joe Biden publicly warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that some important infrastructure should be “out of bounds” for cyber attacks.

This warning applies to 16 different types of infrastructure – a clear reference by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to 16 sectors, including telecommunications, healthcare, food and energy.

Since then, Vrondran has told lawmakers he was aware of software companies, among others, that have been the target of attacks.

“There are compromises against some of these 16 key infrastructure sectors,” he said. “I can’t talk to anyone specifically.”

Thomson Reuters 2022

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