“Russian operation hacked a Vermont utility, showing risk to U.S. electrical grid security, officials say.” That was the headline at the Washington Post for a story which in reality did not involve hacking a utility, risking a grid, or even really Russians, above and beyond the nominal attribution of any malware to Russia these days.
The story stems from a report last night that a single laptop, owned by the Burlington, Vermont power company but not connected to anything, had become infected with malware sort of similar to what targeted the Democrats during the 2016 election campaign. And since we’re blaming Russia for that, we’re blaming Russia for this, by God.
But the laptop wasn’t critical infrastructure, wasn’t connected to anything in the grid, and there’s no evidence the malware did anything to it anyhow. Even putting aside the tenuous Russia link, officials like the Vermont Public Service Commissioner were quick to point out that the grid was not in danger in any way.
The Washington Post, however, hunted for a story, and got Vermont’s Governor Peter Shumlin to condemn Putin as “one of the world’s leading thugs,” and accused him of “attempting to hack our electric grid.” Shumlin and other top Vermont Democrats were only too willing to issue statements based on the Washington Post’s allegations, and the Washington Post was only too willing to keep the echo chamber going.
In the end, the Washington Post kept the false story up, but added an Editor’s Note admitting that there was no indication the grid was penetrated, and noting that the computer was not attached to the grid. The note was added way at the bottom of the long, hysterical story.